Hormone Therapy and Weight Management

Pills in bottles
Pills in bottles. Photo © Microsoft

When your doctor receives your pathology report following your surgery, he or she will be able to tell you if you will benefit from hormone therapy after you complete active treatment. Active treatment may include either radiation therapy or chemotherapy or both, depending on the stage of your cancer. There are drugs categorized as hormone therapy that help reduce the risk of a breast cancer coming back after surgery.

Usually taken in pill form, daily, for a  period of 5 years or possibly longer, these drugs have side-effects that include, but are not limited to fatigue, hot flashes, vaginal dryness or discharge, and mood swings. Weight gain can also be a side-effect that presents a real challenge.

It is hard not to get discouraged as you gain weight, especially if you are trying to cope with some of the other side effects of taking hormone therapies. Yet, these therapies have a proven track record of success in preventing recurrences and need to be taken as directed.

Many of us need help and guidance in maintaining our weight during the years we are receiving hormone therapy. Hospitals and cancer treatment centers usually have a nutritionist on staff who are familiar with the weight gain side-effects of these drugs. If your insurance does not cover seeing a nutritionist, check out the free seminars that are available where you receive care or other treatment facilities in your area.

They usually include talks by nutritionists.

In addition to eating a well-balanced diet that takes into consideration a tendency to gain weight as a possible side-effect of hormone therapy, it is important to get into an exercise routine that helps keep weight off. Seek the help of your treatment team.

First, get cleared by your doctor to resume your pre-cancer exercise routine if it is something you enjoyed and help you maintain a healthy weight. If you didn’t have an exercise program you need to get one. Once again, start with where you were treated; attend some free exercise classes designed for women on hormone therapy.

Don’t be tempted to try weight loss supplements for a fast way of shedding pounds. Remember that, while on hormone therapy, you need to be monitored by a medical oncologist. This is the person you need to run all your medications by, including supplements. The oncologist needs to sign off on what you are taking to insure there is no conflict with what you are taking as a hormone therapy.

You also need to consider what the Federal Drug Administration, FDA, has to say about these products.

The FDA has found hundreds of products that are marketed as dietary supplements but actually contain hidden active ingredients (the components that make a medicine effective against a specific illness) that are found in prescription drugs, as well as unsafe ingredients that were in drugs that have been removed from the market, and compounds that have not been adequately studied in humans.

For example,the  FDA has found weight-loss products tainted with the prescription drug ingredient Sibutramine.This ingredient was in an FDA-approved drug called Meridia that was removed from the market in October 2010 because it caused heart problems and strokes.

Most recently, the FDA found a number of products marketed as dietary supplements containing Fluoxetine, the active ingredient found in Prozac, a prescription drug marketed for the treatment of depression and other conditions. Another product contained Triamterene, a powerful diuretic (sometimes known as “water pills”) that can have serious side-effects and should only be used under the supervision of a health care professional.

Many of these tainted products are imported, sold online, and heavily promoted on social media sites. Some can also be found on store shelves.

And if you’re about to take what you think of as “natural” dietary supplements, such as bee pollen or Garcinia Cambogia, you should be aware that the FDA has found some of these products also contain hidden active ingredients found in prescription drugs.

The FDA recently issued over 30 public notifications and recalled 7 tainted weight loss products. The agency also has issued warning letters, seized products, and criminally prosecuted people responsible for marketing these illegal diet products. In addition, the FDA maintains an online list of tainted weight-loss products.

Unfortunately, some of us will continue to carry more weight during our time on hormone therapy; however, working with a nutritionist and working out regularly will help to keep the weight gain manageable. After 5 years of hormone therapy, I went on a diet and took off the 20 pounds I gained during the course of my treatment.

Taking hormone therapy is a commitment. It requires taking medication for 5 years and coping with side-effects that can be uncomfortable and frustrating. Your oncologist can help with reducing hot flashes and even mood swings, but watching your diet and exercising for weight management is going to be something you have to make happen.

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