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Hormone therapy.

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Just got diagnosed with secondary breast cancer of the bone. Spoke to Oncologist he has put me into oral hormone therapy, with no chemo and no chance of a mastectomy . Does this mean my cancer is only mild.

Deborah - Macmillan

Hi Tuna,

Thank you for getting in touch. My name is Deborah and I’m one of the Cancer Information Nurses on the support line. I understand you were recently diagnosed with secondary breast cancer of the bone and your consultant has started you on oral hormone therapy. Given that you’re not having  chemotherapy or surgery, I can see why this has caused some confusion about what this means as far as your cancer is concerned. Hopefully, I can explain what’s happening and why this particular treatment has been recommended for you.


When we talk about breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, we call this secondary breast cancer or advanced breast cancer. While secondary breast cancer can be treated, it cannot be cured. The aim of treatment for secondary breast cancer is to control and slow down the spread of the cancer; relieve symptoms; maintain health and wellbeing; and give you the best quality of life for as long as possible.


Some breast cancers are stimulated by the hormone oestrogen. This means that oestrogen in the body ‘helps’ the cancer to grow. This type of breast cancer is called oestrogen receptor positive (ER+). It sounds like this might be the type of breast cancer you have. Hormone therapy blocks the effect of oestrogen on breast cancer cells. Hormone therapies can’t take the breast cancer cells away. But they can slow down the growth of the breast cancer cells. This is why your consultant has prescribed these for you.


You asked if your cancer is “mild” due to the fact that you’ve not been offered surgery or chemotherapy. It’s a good question. Normally, when we talk about cancer, we talk about the stage (how far it has spread from where it started) and the grade (how ‘aggressive’ or quickly it spreads). You have an advanced cancer, which is stage 4. From the information you’ve given, I’m not sure which grade your cancer is. However, the hormone therapy you’re taking should help to slow down the growth of these cells, regardless.

Usually, if a cancer is caught at an early stage, there are more treatment options available and in many cases, the cancer can be cured. Treatment options usually include chemotherapy and surgery, depending on each case.  

Unfortunately, because your cancer has already spread, surgery wouldn’t get rid of the cancer. As for chemotherapy, there may be a number of reasons why your hospital team felt this wasn’t a good option for you. Some people experience side effects which have a negative impact on their quality of life, meaning the risks outweigh the benefits of treatment. Your suitability for chemotherapy also depends on your general wellbeing, whether you have any other health conditions that would make it harder for you to tolerate chemotherapy drugs. Your age or your own personal circumstances might affect whether you can have chemotherapy too. If you’re unsure why these treatments weren’t recommended for you, you can ask your consultant for an explanation of how they made their clinical decision.


I hope this has made things a bit clearer, Tuna. If you’d like to chat to one of our nurses, you’re very welcome to call our support line on 0808 808 0000. We’re open every day, 8am-8pm.


Best wishes


Deborah, Macmillan Information Nurse Specialist