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Hormone Positive Breast Cancer

Some breast cancer cells have characteristics that make the cancer easier to treat. We test newly diagnosed breast cancer cells to see if they have hormone receptors, which fuel cancer growth. About two out of every three breast cancers have at least one type of hormone receptor. At the Abramson Cancer Center, our specialized breast cancer team uses these details to personalize treatment for every patient.

What Is Hormone-Positive Breast Cancer?

Hormone receptors are proteins found on breast cells. They pick up the estrogen or progesterone signals that promote cell growth. Breast cancer cells that have receptors for either hormone are considered hormone receptor-positive (HR+), or just hormone-positive.

Breast tumors may be positive for estrogen receptors (ER+), progesterone receptors (PR+) or both (ER/PR+). About 80 percent of all HR+ breast cancers are ER+ or ER/PR+. Knowing whether the tumor needs estrogen and/or progesterone to grow makes it easier to treat the cancer. Breast cancer cells can test positive for hormone receptors regardless of the type of breast cancer or disease stage.

Testing for Estrogen and Progesterone Receptors

At Penn Medicine, our expert pathologist tests tumor tissue using samples taken during biopsy or surgery. The most common test used to classify hormone receptor status is an immunohistochemistry (IHC) test. This sensitive test will identify a tumor as HR+ if even 1 percent of the tested cells have a hormone receptor.

Breast tissue is also tested for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). Breast cancer that is HER2-positive may respond to targeted therapy. Cancer that tests negative for hormone receptors and HER2 is called triple negative breast cancer.

Why Choose the Abramson Cancer Center for HR-Positive Breast Cancer?

We know how to identify a tumor's characteristics and use that information to personalize breast cancer treatment. These steps are key in effective breast cancer care. At the Abramson Cancer Center, you can expect:

  • Expert diagnosis: Our specialized breast cancer pathologist only works with breast cancer tissue. We accurately interpret your test results so you quickly get the treatment you need.
  • Leaders in targeted therapy: Our renowned oncologists know when targeted therapy is appropriate for HR+ breast cancer and how to use it effectively.
  • Support for side effects: We offer breast cancer support and integrative oncology to ease any discomfort and pain associate with treatment.
  • Care close to home: We provide breast cancer expertise at all our Penn Medicine locations. Oncologists throughout our network collaborate to get you advanced breast cancer care.

How We Treat PR- and ER-Positive Breast Cancer

Knowing what fuels the growth of HR+ breast cancer is important. By lowering the amount of estrogen in the body, we may stop cancer cells from growing. We use a combination of targeted and standard cancer treatments to treat HR+ breast cancer. Breast cancer treatment at Penn Medicine may include:

  • Surgery, for the removal of either part (lumpectomy) or all (mastectomy) of the breast
  • Breast reconstruction, which surgically recreates the shape and appearance of your breast after or at the same time as your breast cancer surgery
  • Chemotherapy, which uses either oral or intravenous (IV) drugs to attack cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy, used after surgery or chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy, directed at hormone receptors and also benefits patients whose cancer is HER2-positive and/or related to a BRCA gene mutation
  • Hormone therapy, (also called endocrine therapy) to stop the action of hormones
  • Clinical trials, which offer new and innovative ways to treat HR+ breast cancer