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Hormone Receptors And Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Videos

Breast Cancer: Hormones

The body produces two hormones called oestrogen and progesterone. Breast cancer tumours are often sensitive to these hormones. This means that without the hormones the cancer cells stop reproducing or die.

Hormone Status and Receptors

Patients with breast cancer require a biopsy test to determine the oestrogen and progesterone receptor status of the tumour. These tests tell if the tumour is fuelled by either of those hormones. If the test comes back positive we can call the cancer hormone-sensitive. Cancer that is hormone-sensitive usually grows slightly slower than non-sensitive cancer and will respond better to hormone-suppression treatment.

Oestrogen Receptor Status

If your breast cancer tumour is tested and is found to be Oestrogen Receptor positive (ER+) this means that the oestrogen produced in your body is helping the tumour grow. Hormone suppression treatment that stops your body producing oestrogen can help fight the cancer. If the tumour score is Oestrogen Receptor negative (ER-), then the tumour is not fuelled by oestrogen production and hormone suppression treatment will not be effective.

Progesterone Receptor Status

If your breast cancer tumour scores Progesterone Receptor positive (PR+) this means that the progesterone produced in your body is helping the tumour grow and the cancer should respond to hormone-suppression treatments. If it scores Progesterone Receptor negative (PR-) then the tumour is not fuelled by progesterone production and these treatments will be less effective.

Hormone Receptor Scores

If your hormone receptor test results come back negative, it is advisable to ask your doctor to provide a numerical score. Hormone receptor scores range from 0 to 3 indicating the number of hormone receptors present in the biopsy sample. The higher the number of receptors, the more likely it is that the cancer will respond to hormone suppression treatment. However, tumours with low receptor scores may still respond to hormone suppression treatments so it’s a good idea to know your score.

Hormone receptor scores can be broken down as follows:

• 0 no receptors found

• 1+ is a small number of receptors

• 2+ is a medium number of receptors

• 3+ is a large number of receptors

Hormone Receptor Percentages

Sometimes your test results will be provided as a percentage. When 100 cells are tested, a certain number have hormone receptors. This number is your receptor score. A score of 0% means that no cells have receptors – the cancer will not respond to hormone suppression treatments. A score of 100% means that all the cells have receptors and the cancer should respond well to hormone suppression treatment.

What is HER2?

HER2 is a gene that transmits signals to your cells, telling them to grow, divide, and make repairs. Some types of breast cancer occur when a breast cell has more than 2 copies of that gene, and those copies start over-producing the HER2 protein. The affected cells grow and divide much too quickly, causing a tumour to develop.

HER2 Status

Breast cancer tested for HER2 status that scores positive means that the cancer is caused by your HER2 genes over-producing the HER2 protein. If the HER2 score is negative then the HER2 gene did not cause the breast cancer.

Hormone-sensitive Cancer: Treatment

If your breast cancer scores positive for either oestrogen or progesterone receptor status then you’ll receive treatment to block your body’s production of that hormone. This will use one of a number of hormone suppression drugs.

HER2 positive cancer: Treatment

Herceptin is the drug used to treat HER2 positive breast cancer. Herceptin targets the HER2 protein production. This helps to stop the growth of the HER2 positive cancer cells.

Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Some types of breast cancer score negative for oestrogen, progesterone and HER2 receptor status. These types of cancer are referred to as “triple negative cancers”. Triple negative cancers do not respond to hormone suppression treatment or Herceptin. In these cases patients will receive chemotherapy, which is more effective in the treatment of triple negative breast cancer.


10639 Published April 2012

Review Scheduled April 2013

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