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Hormone therapies for cancer

This page explains what hormone therapies are and how they can affect you.

Hormone therapies are treatments for cancer that use or block hormones. Some of the side effects of these treatments can affect your sex life. For example many hormone treatments for breast cancer can cause changes to your vagina such as discharge or dryness. Progesterone is a hormone treatment for womb cancer. Its side effects include a lowered sexual interest. 

Some hormone treatments can cause an early menopause. This may be reversible, for example with the hormone treatment goserelin (Zoladex). Goserelin is sometimes used to block female sex hormones in younger women with breast cancer.

Other hormone treatments, such as tamoxifen, may make you more likely to go into menopause. The closer you are to the age at which you would have menopause naturally, the more likely it is that tamoxifen will cause menopause.

Some post menopausal women with breast cancer take aromatase inhibitors instead of tamoxifen. These medicines also lower levels of oestrogen, which can reduce sexual desire. Aromatase inhibitors may have side effects such as fatigue and depression, both of which can affect sexual desire.

In a study that compared the aromatase inhibitor letrozole to tamoxifen, women taking letrozole reported slightly fewer hot flushes and less vaginal bleeding. They reported a similar amount of vaginal irritation and nausea but more painful joints and aching muscles. Most of these side effects can reduce sexual desire and arousal.

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