Side Effects of Hormone Therapy

Because hormones play an important role in regulating sexuality, sexual characteristics, and other physiological processes, you’re likely to experience some side effects as a result of hormone therapy. The degree to which you’ll be affected depends on the type of therapy you’re receiving and how it’s administered.

Word to the Wise

Your sexual desire may diminish because of the emotional and physical effects of treatment. Your oncologist may be able to recommend a counselor who can work with you and your partner.

Women may experience effects similar to menopause, which is the natural decline of estrogen that occurs with age. These may include:

  • Weight gain
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Vaginal dryness

Men who take hormone therapy for breast cancer may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Impotence
  • Osteoporosis, or loss of bone mass
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Enlarged breasts

It’s important to discuss how hormone therapy may affect your quality of life with your doctor. There are a variety of medications, complimentary therapies, and lifestyle adjustments you can make to help you manage side effects.

Side effects of tamoxifen

Tamoxifen is currently the most widely used hormone therapy. This selective estrogen receptor modulator stops estrogen from binding to cancer cells but does not stop the body from producing estrogen.

In addition to symptoms like irregular menstruation and hot flashes, tamoxifen can very rarely cause much more serious side effects, such as blood clots and cancer of the lining of the uterus, or endometrium. Your doctor may do periodic pelvic exams, as well as biopsies and other tests of the uterine lining, to monitor for this condition. Younger women taking tamoxifen are also at risk for becoming pregnant more easily and should discuss birth control methods with their doctor.

Surgical hormone therapy

Young women who have an ovariectomy, or have their ovaries removed to deprive cancer cells of estrogen, will experience menopause immediately. Their menopausal symptoms are likely to be more severe than the effects of natural menopause.

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