Hormone therapy for breast cancer

Hormone therapy for breast cancer, also called endocrine therapy or hormone-blocking therapy, is used to treat breast cancer that is hormone receptor positive. The aim of hormone therapy is to slow or stop the growth of hormone receptor positive cancer cells.

There are different ways of reducing the level of female hormones in the body. This will depend on your age, the type of breast cancer and − for women − whether you have reached menopause.

The main types of hormone therapies for early breast cancer are tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors, and temporary or permanent ovarian treatments.

Learn more about:


Listen to podcasts on Making Treatment Decisions and Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis


Tamoxifen

Tamoxifen is known as an anti-oestrogen drug. It works by stopping cancer cells responding to oestrogen. Tamoxifen is usually started after surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. It is commonly taken as a daily tablet for 5–10 years. It can be given to women of any age, regardless of whether they have reached menopause, and to men.

Side effects of tamoxifen

Your doctor will probably recommend that you use contraception while you are taking tamoxifen, as the drug may be harmful to a developing baby.

Tamoxifen does not cause menopause, but it causes similar symptoms to menopause. The most common side effects of tamoxifen include:

  • hot flushes and sweating
  • trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • vaginal dryness or discharge
  • muscle cramps
  • low mood
  • weight gain
  • irregular periods.

In men, side effects can include low sex drive (libido) and erection problems.

You may also be at an increased risk of blood clots – see your doctor immediately if you have any swelling, soreness or warmth in your arm or leg. If you are having further surgery or travelling long distances, you may need to stop taking tamoxifen beforehand to lower the risk of blood clots. You can resume taking it when surgery or travel is completed.

A rare side effect of tamoxifen is an increased risk of uterine cancer in postmenopausal women. See your doctor if you notice any unusual bleeding. If you’re taking tamoxifen for more than five years, you should have annual gynaecological examinations.

You will probably not experience all of the side effects listed above. Side effects usually improve as treatment continues and after it has finished. Your doctor and breast care nurse can give you information about ways to manage the side effects of tamoxifen.

Read more about tamoxifen

Aromatase inhibitors

Aromatase inhibitors help prevent the growth of oestrogen-dependent cancer cells by reducing the amount of oestrogen the body produces. They are recommended only for postmenopausal women, who are already producing smaller amounts of oestrogen.

Examples of aromatase inhibitors include anastrozole, exemestane and letrozole. They are taken daily as a tablet, usually for five years. Clinical trials are researching whether the drugs should be taken for 10 years.

Side effects of aromatase inhibitors

Side effects of aromatase inhibitors may include:

  • joint and muscle pain
  • bone thinning and weakening (osteoporosis)
  • vaginal dryness
  • low mood
  • hot flushes
  • weight gain.

For women with arthritis, aromatase inhibitors may worsen joint stiffness and pain. Exercise or medication may help with this.

Before starting treatment with an aromatase inhibitor, you will have a bone density scan to check your bone health.

Read more about aromatase inhibitors

Ovarian treatments

For women who have not reached menopause, treatments that stop the ovaries from producing oestrogen, either temporarily or permanently, may be recommended.

Temporary ovarian treatment

Also called ovarian suppression, this treatment includes the drug goserelin (Zoladex®), which stops oestrogen production. Zoladex is suitable for women who have breast cancer that is sensitive to oestrogen. The drug is given as an injection by a nurse or your GP once a month for 2–5 years to bring on a temporary menopause.

You may experience side effects such as:

  • low sex drive (libido)
  • hot flushes
  • mood swings
  • trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • vaginal dryness
  • headaches.

Ask your doctor or nurse for ways to manage these side effects.

Permanent ovarian treatment

Ovarian ablation is treatment that permanently stops the ovaries from producing oestrogen. The treatment usually involves surgery to remove the ovaries (oophorectomy) or, occasionally, radiotherapy to the ovaries.

Ovarian ablation will bring on permanent menopause. This means you will no longer be able to become pregnant. You may have some menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes and vaginal dryness, and your risk of osteoporosis may increase. If you would like to become pregnant in the future, ask your doctor for a referral to a fertility specialist before treatment starts.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059

Kobo

To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

Read more about ovarian treatments

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059

Kobo

To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.


This information was last reviewed in July 2016
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum

Need legal and financial assistance?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment

Cancer information

Making cancer treatment decisions
Decision-making steps, consent and second opinions

View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends

SHARE
TOP BACK TO TOP