Not all breast cancers are hormone driven however treatments for breast cancer almost always affect a woman’s hormone balance. For example, triple negative breast cancer, although not treated with hormone therapy, tends to occur in younger women who need treatment with chemotherapy. The chemotherapy generally causes an early menopause (sometimes called chemopause). For women with hormone depended breast cancer, estrogen blockade is a major part of treatment (tamoxifen). For premenopausal women this often gives some symptoms of menopause or induces a full blown early menopause. Women with hormone driven breast cancer occurring after the menopause are often treated with drugs that block estrogen production from tissues outside the ovary (aromatase inhibitors).
For these reasons hormone problems are common in women who have been treated for breast cancer. Whilst thankfully survival rates for breast cancer are generally good, the treatments do leave a legacy that each individual breast cancer survivor is left to deal with more or less silently. Ideally women in this situation should be able to see a hormone specialist to discuss their specific needs and formulate a tailored management plan to optimise their health and quality of life. This will be different for each individual. For example some women will have problems limited to bone health (for example osteoporosis or brittle bones), some will have severe menopausal symptoms, others may suffer with hair loss, reduced sex drive, mood swings or fatigue. However very few breast cancer survivors actually have access to a hormone specialist or even know that their health could be optimised by seeing one!
I am going to post more about the hormone legacy in breast cancer survivors on this website. This is a subject very close to my heart and I am a proud supporter of the Genesis Breast Cancer Charity