Understanding Letrozole (Femara) for Breast Cancer Treatment

1. What is Letrozole?

Letrozole, commonly known as Femara, is a hormone therapy drug primarily used to treat breast cancer in postmenopausal women. It is also considered for premenopausal women undergoing ovarian suppression. While there are various brands of letrozole, they all contain the same drug dosage. In cases of male breast cancer, tamoxifen is often the preferred alternative.

2. How Letrozole Works

Letrozole operates by reducing the production of estrogen in the body. Some breast cancers, known as estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive), depend on estrogen to fuel their growth. Letrozole belongs to a class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors.

3. Who Might Be Offered Letrozole?

Letrozole is suitable for postmenopausal women with ER-positive breast cancer. In certain cases, it may be combined with ovarian suppression for premenopausal women. However, if the cancer is hormone receptor-negative, letrozole won’t be effective.

4. When is Letrozole Given?

Typically administered post-surgery, letrozole helps reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence or spreading. Its initiation during chemotherapy or radiotherapy is determined by specialists. Occasionally, letrozole is the first-line treatment, especially when surgery is not immediately viable.

Letrozole is also used in cases of recurrent breast cancer or when cancer has spread (secondary breast cancer), often in combination with another drug.

5. How Letrozole is Given

Letrozole is taken orally, as a tablet, once a day, with or without food. Consistency in daily timing is advised. Missing a dose doesn’t require a double dose the next day. It’s important to notify healthcare providers of lactose intolerance, as some letrozole brands contain small amounts of lactose.

6. How Long Will I Have to Take It?

The duration of letrozole treatment varies based on individual situations. For primary breast cancer, the typical course is five to ten years. In some cases, patients switch to letrozole after a few years of tamoxifen. For recurrent or metastatic breast cancer, treatment continues as long as it effectively controls the cancer.

7. Side Effects of Letrozole

As with any medication, letrozole may cause side effects, but their intensity varies among individuals. It’s essential to be aware of potential side effects and discuss any concerns with healthcare providers.

8. Stopping Letrozole

Deciding when to stop letrozole is a decision made by the treatment team. Gradual cessation is not necessary, and evidence suggests a continued reduction in breast cancer risk even after stopping the medication. However, discontinuing before the recommended duration may increase the risk of cancer recurrence.

9. Other Important Information

  • Taking Letrozole with Other Drugs: Check with your treatment team or pharmacist regarding interactions with other prescribed or over-the-counter medicines. Avoid other drugs containing estrogen, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), as they may interfere with letrozole effectiveness.
  • Sex and Contraception: Letrozole can be harmful during pregnancy, and non-hormonal contraception methods are recommended for sexually active women. Discuss contraceptive options with your treatment team.
  • Fertility: Getting pregnant while on letrozole is not advisable. Consult your treatment team regarding fertility concerns before starting treatment.
  • Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding is not recommended during letrozole treatment, or within a week of the last dose, due to potential drug transmission through breast milk.

Understanding letrozole and its implications is crucial in navigating breast cancer treatment. If you have further questions or concerns, reach out to your healthcare provider or contact our helpline at 0808 800 6000. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and support is available.

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