Hormone therapy for women

Hormone therapy for cancer uses medicines to block or lower the amount of hormones in the body. This can stop or slow down the growth of cancer.

Cancers that can be hormone sensitive include:

  • breast cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • womb cancer (also called uterine or endometrial cancer)

Some of the side effects of these treatments can affect your sex life.

Many hormone treatments for breast cancer can cause vaginal changes such as discharge or dryness. Progesterone is a hormone treatment for womb cancer. Its side effects can include a lowered sexual interest. 

Tell your doctor or nurse if you are having problems with any side effects of hormone treatment. Your team might be able to recommend treatment or lifestyle changes that could help.

Menopausal symptoms

The menopause is sometimes called the change of life. This normally happens in females in their 40s and 50s, when women stop producing sex hormones. Their periods become irregular and eventually stop. Women can then no longer become pregnant.

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

Hormone treatments such as tamoxifen might make an early menopause more likely. The closer you are to the age you would have menopause naturally, the more likely it is that tamoxifen will cause your menopause. You might also get other menopausal symptoms, even if you’ve already had your menopause.

An early menopause due to cancer treatment can be a shock. It might feel physically and emotionally overwhelming at first. It can take time to adjust to the loss of fertility and other symptoms. These symptoms might include:

  • vaginal dryness
  • tiredness
  • hot flushes
  • sweating

Hormone therapy after the menopause

Some post menopausal women with breast cancer take aromatase inhibitors instead of tamoxifen. Examples of aromatase inhibitors include anastrozole (Arimidex) or letrozole (Femara).

These medicines also lower levels of oestrogen, which can reduce sexual desire. Aromatase inhibitors may have side effects such as fatigue and depression. These can also affect sexual desire.

Help and support

If you’re worried about anything to do with your sex life or sexuality, you may want to talk through how you’re feeling. You could do this with a counsellor or therapist. Or you could contact some of the organisations that offer support and information.

Cancer Research UK nurses

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available. Freephone: 0808 800 4040 - Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
Last reviewed: 
08 Nov 2021
Next review due: 
08 Nov 2024
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    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), July 2018

  • Advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and treatment
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), Last Updated August 2017

  • Early breast cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    F Cardoso and others
    Annals of Oncology, June 2019. Volume 30, Pages 1194 – 1220

  • British National Formulary

    Accessed November 2021

  • Electronic Medicines Compendium

    Accessed November 2021

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