What is Femara?
Femara is the trade name for an aromatase inhibitor drug known as Letrozole and is basically a type of hormone treatment used primarily in women. Its main purpose is to inhibit the production of excess estrogen in the body, so it is used on both cancer patients and post-menopausal women. The main use for this medication is as an additional (adjuvant) treatment with other breast cancer treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Women who are not post-menopausal are advised not to take the drug. Pre-menopausal women must create their own estrogen, and Femara could have dangerous effects on their bodies. Letrazole may also be used to treat or prevent gynaecomastia in men.
Femara has been available for over ten years, since the 1990s and is made by Novartis. It is also available in a generic format, but does not have any other brand names. This medication is only available on prescription from a physician and cannot be purchased over the counter.
Letrozole has many uses. The first and most common are for those who are undergoing breast cancer treatments or ovarian treatments. In some cases it is used as a form of hormone therapy for post-menopausal women who are producing an excess of estrogen. It has also been used as an ovarian stimulant, although that is not the purpose described on the commercial label and furthermore should not be used for that purpose without doctoral consent. It is not usually prescribed for women who are in their prime to have children. Femara is administered in 2.5-milligram tablets, taken once daily.
How does Femara Work?
Estrogen is a hormone that is involved in the maintenance of the female menstrual cycle. Post-menopausal women produce less estrogen than menstruating women because it is involved in fertility and the regulation of the menstrual cycle. In post-menopausal women estrogen is produced in various areas of the body by conversion from another group of hormones called androgens. This conversion is due to a hormone called aromatase.
Breast cancer occurs when there is an abnormal growth of cells in the breast tissue. In some types of breast cancer, the growth of the tumour may be initiated or maintained by estrogen.
Femara works by binding to the aromatase enzyme and stopping it functioning so the estrogen levels in the body are reduced. Blocking the production of estrogen in women with estrogen-susceptible cancers slows the growth rate of the tumours, and may even cause them to shrink.
This treatment on its own is not enough to cure the cancer. It is not even suitable for treatment for all breast cancers, just those that are hormone sensitive. Femara works as an additional treatment (adjuvant therapy) to more traditional cancer treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Femara is licenced for use only in post-menopausal women. If a pre-menopausal woman develops hormone-dependant breast cancer she will be treated with a different type of medication called tamoxifen. It is used for certain types of breast cancer only. These include breast cancers that are positive for estrogen receptors, breast cancers which are very advanced, and as an alternative treatment for women who have been taking tamoxifen for five years for their breast cancer.
Tips and Precautions when using Femara
Femara is not licenced for use in menstruating women, but may be used as a fertility treatment by a specialist physician. You should not use Femara if you have an allergic reaction to this medication: you should check with your physician if you think you have had a bad reaction to Femara. If you have any of the following conditions, you should inform your doctor as it can affect your treatment with Femara:
- Osteoporosis (thin bones); your doctor may do a bone scan to assess your bone density if unsure
- Liver problems
- Renal (kidney) failure
You should also inform your doctor if you become pregnant, breast feeding or planning to become pregnant as this can affect your treatment.
If you are confused or worried about anything to do with your Femara medication, you should contact your physician for further advice.