When your breast cancer cells are tested by the pathologist they will be tested to see if they have certain ‘receptors’. Our basic non-medical understanding is that certain levels of certain receptors can stimulate the cancer to grow. For a more detailed explanation of receptors, you can read this Macmillan guide.
One of the receptor tests which is carried out on your cancer cells by the pathologist is to see whether your cancer cells have hormonal receptors – that is to say that they are testing to see whether certain hormones that are present in the body stimulate your breast cancer cells to grow.
If your cancer cells have receptors for the hormone oestrogen then you will have what is called “oestrogen receptor positive (or ER +ve) breast cancer”. If your cancer cells have receptors for the hormone progesterone then you will have “progesterone receptor positive breast cancer”.
If your breast cancer does not have receptors for oestrogen, progesterone or HER2 (see our page on HER2+ve breast cancer), then you have what is called “triple negative breast cancer“. For more information about triple negative breast cancer, see this Breast Cancer Now page.
Around 70% of breast cancers are ER +ve. They respond well to hormone therapy (also called endocrine therapy). Hormone therapy helps stop the effect of oestrogen on the breast cancer cells.
There are various hormone therapies. Some are given to you as injections, some are given as tablets. The different hormone therapies work in different ways. Your oncologist prescribes the most suitable one taking into account a number of factors about you and your cancer. There are a number of differences between the therapies, such as: dosage, how they are administered, side effects and length of treatment.
The hormone therapies (with links to more information about each from Breast Cancer Now) are:
The Breast Cancer Now website has full information on hormone therapies in general and also for each of the therapies (see the links above). The website also has booklets on each therapy which can be downloaded or ordered – search on this page for the one you wish to read or order.
QUICK TIP: If you are taking one of the daily tablets, says Sara, you may find that the combination of chemo brain + menopausal fog means that you forget to take your daily tablet, or have no idea whether you have taken it! A simple way to help you with this is to use a sharpie and write the days of the week on the foil of the tablet packet.
The information and content provided on this page is intended for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice.
Reviewed July 2021
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