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Understanding hormones

Q&A: Estrogen Blockers to Treat Breast Cancer


What Is an Estrogen Blocker?

Estrogen blockers are commonly used to treat breast cancer.Estrogen blockers are chemicals that stop estrogen from carrying out its role in specific bodily functions. There are several types of estrogen blockers: aromatase inhibitors, antiestrogens, and specific estrogen receptor modulators. Aromatase inhibitors actually prevent the production of new estrogen. Antiestrogens and specific estrogen receptor modulators block estrogen receptors, so that the hormone cannot bind itself to certain body parts. Your doctor can prescribe this to you in the form of a pill or a monthly shot to be given in a doctor’s office.

Why Would I Want to Block Estrogen?

Although certain amounts of this hormone are essential to female health, menopause marks a time in a woman’s life where estrogen levels can fluctuate radically. During peak times of estrogen production, too much of this hormone can have a negative effect on your health, leading to problems such as certain reproductive cancers, heart disease, and stroke.

Estrogen blockers are most commonly used to treat breast cancer by slowing its progression. In 2008, a University of London study found that women who experience unpleasant symptoms, such as hot flashes, during estrogen blocking treatments experienced a lower risk of recurrence.

What Are the Benefits of Using an Estrogen Blocker?

Nearly four out of five breast cancer cases involve a growth that depends on estrogen to survive. Because estrogen blockers make the hormone ineffective, they can stop the advancement of breast cancer in these cases. Using a regimen of estrogen blockers may be referred to as hormonal therapy.

Hormonal therapy is sometimes prescribed to breast cancer patients.Hormonal therapy is sometimes prescribed to breast cancer patients in whom the disease has been detected in its earliest stages and has been surgically removed. In these cases, the therapy is a preventative measure against recurrence. Estrogen blockers can also be used during the advanced stages of cancer or with cancers that are prone to metastasizing.

What Are the Side Effects of Estrogen Blockers?

Because estrogen blockers inhibit the effect of estrogen in your body, there is always the risk of your estrogen production falling to levels that are lower than normal. Likewise, this treatment could invoke the common signs of menopause including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, dizziness, and headaches.

Long term effects of a regimen of estrogen blockers include osteoporosis, joint pain, endometrial cancer, and blood clots.

Additional Information

In addition to breast cancer, high levels of estrogen have also been associated with allergies and thyroid dysfunction. Click on the following link to learn more about the effects of estrogen.

Reviewed on Monday, September 2nd, 2013

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