- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Fertility and cancer
- Female fertility and cancer treatments
- Hormone therapy
The hormones oestrogen or progesterone may help some types of breast and uterine cancers to grow. Hormone therapy aims to slow down the growth of these cancers by lowering the amount of hormones the tumour receives.
If a cancer is growing in response to oestrogen or progesterone, the cancer cells will have hormone receptors. These are proteins found on the surface of the cancer cell. There are two types of hormone receptors: oestrogen receptors and progesterone receptors. Cancer cells with hormone receptors on them are said to be hormone receptor positive or hormone sensitive cancers. They are likely to respond to hormone therapy.
Hormone therapy can be used for a short time or long term. As it blocks the hormones that are required for fertility, you will have to wait until hormone therapy is finished to try for a baby. You may be able to store eggs or embryos before starting hormone therapy.
Anti-oestrogen drugs (such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors) are used to reduce the risk that oestrogen-sensitive breast cancers will come back after treatment. Many anti-oestrogen drugs are taken for several years. During this time, pregnancy should be avoided, as there is a risk the drugs could harm an unborn child. These drugs do not cause infertility and do not damage the ovaries or eggs.
Hormone therapy and pregnancy
Although hormone treatments for breast cancer are used for many years, it is often possible to take a break from the drugs to try for a baby. If you are on hormone therapy and want to become pregnant, talk to your treatment team or fertility specialist about the advantages and disadvantages of stopping hormone therapy.
Dr Ying Li, Gynaecologist and Fertility Specialist, RPA Fertility Unit, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; Dr Antoinette Anazodo, Paediatric and Adolescent Oncologist, Sydney Children’s Hospital and Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW, and Lead Clinician for Youth Cancer NSW/ACT; Paul Baden, Consumer; Dawn Bedwell, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Maurice Edwards, Special Counsel, Watts McCray Lawyers, NSW; Helena Green, Clinical Sexologist and Counsellor, InSync for Life, WA; Dr Michelle Peate, Program Leader, Psychosocial Health and Wellbeing Research (emPoWeR) Unit, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Royal Women’s Hospital, The University of Melbourne, VIC; A/Prof Kate Stern, Gynaecologist and Reproductive Endocrinologist and Head, Fertility Preservation Service, Royal Women’s Hospital Melbourne, The University of Melbourne, VIC; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Health Psychology, Translational Health Resea ch Institute (THRI), School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, NSW; Renee Van Den Bosch, Consumer.
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