What is Letrozole Therapy?
Letrozole, also known by its brand name Femara, is a hormonal therapy drug that is used to treat breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Letrozole is usually given in tablet form and belongs to a group of drugs called aromatase inhibitors.
Letrozole usually works for women whose breast cancer is estrogen receptor-positive. However, if your cancer is hormone receptor-negative, then letrozole will not be of any benefit.
How does Letrozole Work?
Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone produced in women. Estrogen stimulates some breast cancers to grow. These breast cancers are called estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) breast cancers.
Postmenopausal women do not produce estrogen from their ovaries. However, a small amount of estrogen is still produced by an enzyme called aromatase, that turns the other sex hormone called androgen into estrogen. Letrozole functions by diminishing the amount of estrogen produced in the body by inhibiting the activity of aromatase.
When is Letrozole Given?
Letrozole is mostly given after breast surgery to decrease the risk of breast cancer recurrence or spreading.
If you are undergoing radiotherapy or chemotherapy, your doctor will advise on the best possible time to start letrozole.
Occasionally, when surgery needs to be delayed or is deemed inappropriate, letrozole may be given as the first treatment for breast cancer.
Letrozole can also be used when breast cancer has metastasized or spread to other parts of the body along with another drug, such as ribociclib or palbociclib.
Things to Know While Taking Letrozole
Letrozole should be taken as a tablet once a day, with or without food. It is best to take it at the same time each day. You may take letrozole on its own, or with other drugs. Make sure you:
- Swallow them whole with water
- Do not crush or chew the tablets
- If you miss a dose, try to take the missed dose within the same day if possible
- If you have completely missed a dose, do not take an extra dose the next day
- Keep the medication safely out of children’s reach
- Keep it at room temperature, away from sunlight and heat
- If you experience any sickness after taking the tablets, call your doctor and do not take any more doses
- Do not discontinue taking any of your medicines midway unless your doctor tells you to do so
How Long Do I have to Take Letrozole Therapy?
The length of the letrozole therapy varies from individual to individual. However, you may need to take letrozole for a period of 5 to 10 years for better results. Your doctor may recommend taking it as long as possible if your cancer has recurred or spread to other parts of the body in order to keep cancer under control.
Side Effects of Letrozole Therapy
As with any drug, letrozole too has some side effects. The side effects vary from individual to individual and some individuals may have more side effects than others.
Common side effects of letrozole include:
- Muscle or joint pain
- Low mood and depression
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Difficulty sleeping
- High blood pressure and cholesterol
- Loss of appetite
- Vaginal bleeding or dryness
- Weight gain
- Hot flushes or sweats
Self-Care Tips to Manage Side Effects
Some of the measures that can help in reducing or mitigating side effects include:
- If you experience hot flashes, wear light clothes and stay in a cool environment
- For generalized aches and pains, ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help
- If you experience nausea, take anti-nausea medications and consume small frequent meals
- Consume minimum alcoholic beverages or avoid completely
- Avoid sun exposure and use sunblock agents
- Maintain good nutrition
- Get ample rest
- If you experience severe side effects, seek immediate medical care
Benefits of Letrozole
Some of the benefits of taking letrozole include:
- Decreased risk of breast cancer recurrence
- Decreased risk of breast cancer metastasizing or spreading to other parts of the body
- Increased survival rate from breast cancer