Hormone therapy for advanced breast cancer

Breast cancer

Hormone therapy for advanced breast cancer

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy

Some breast cancers have hormone receptors which means they are driven by oestrogen (ER +) and/or progesterone (PR +). Hormone therapy, also known as endocrine therapy, works by lowering oestrogen in your body or by blocking oestrogen from entering the cancer cells. Hormone therapy is not the same as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) used to treat menopausal symptoms.

When is hormone therapy used for ABC?

Hormone therapy is the recommended first treatment for women with hormone receptor-positive ABC. Even if you have been previously treated with hormone therapy, your specialist cancer team will probably offer a different hormone-blocking medication.

If your ABC is hormone receptor negative (few or no oestrogen or progesterone receptors) hormone therapy will not be included in your treatment.

There are different types of hormone-blocking medications and the type you have depends on:

  • whether you have been through menopause or not
  • previous hormone-blocking medications you have been on.


Fulvestrant (Faslodex)

Aromatase inhibitors

Anastrozole, exemestane and letrozole

Drugs to stop the ovaries producing oestrogen (ovarian suppression)


Surgery to remove the ovaries


Side effects of hormone therapy

The most common side effects of hormone therapy are menopausal symptoms such as:

  • hot flushes
  • night sweats
  • vaginal dryness
  • loss of bone density
  • reduced libido (sex drive)
  • mood changes
  • joint / muscle pain and stiffness
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • tiredness or fatigue

Managing side effects

Many people will experience some side effects of hormone therapy drugs. It is important that you speak to your specialist team for help on managing/improving your symptoms.

You can also discuss any side effects with our specialist nurse team. Call 0800 BC NURSE (226 8773) or send an email to breastnurse@bcf.org.nz.

Watch our webinar: “Learning to love Tamoxifen and AIs”, which discusses the side-effects of hormone therapy, as well as remedies and strategies to help improve your quality of life while taking them.

Read more about Tamoxifen and how it works in our factsheet.