Hormonal Therapy

Hormonal Therapy to Treat Cancer

Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that slows or stops the growth of cancer that uses hormones to grow. Hormone therapy is also called hormone treatment, or endocrine therapy. Hormone therapy is often used after surgery (as adjuvant therapy) to help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. Sometimes it is started before surgery (as neoadjuvant therapy).

How Hormone Therapy Works

Some cancers use hormones to grow or develop. This means the cancer is hormone sensitive or hormone dependent.

Hormone therapy for cancer uses medicines to block or lower the amount of hormones in the body to stop or slow down the growth of cancer.

Hormone therapy stops hormones being made or prevents hormones from making cancer cells grow and divide. It does not work for all cancers.

Cancers that can be hormone sensitive include:

  • breast cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • uterine cancer (also called endometrial cancer)

How Hormone Therapy Is Given

Hormone therapy may be given in many ways. Some common ways include:

  • Oral. Hormone therapy comes in pills that you swallow.
  • Injection. The hormone therapy is given by a shot in a muscle in your arm, thigh, or hip, or right under the skin in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or belly.
  • Surgery. You may have surgery to remove organs that produce hormones. In women, the ovaries are removed. In men, the testicles are removed.

Who Receives Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy is used to treat prostate and breast cancers that use hormones to grow. Hormone therapy is most often used along with other cancer treatments. The types of treatment that you need depend on the type of cancer, if it has spread and how far, if it uses hormones to grow, and if you have other health problems.

Hormone Therapy Can Cause Side Efects

Because hormone therapy blocks your body’s ability to produce hormones or interferes with how hormones behave, it can cause unwanted side effects. The side effects you have will depend on the type of hormone therapy you receive and how your body responds to it. People respond differently to the same treatment, so not everyone gets the same side effects. Some side effects also differ if you are a man or a woman.

Some common side effects for men who receive hormone therapy for prostate cancer include:

  • Hot flashes
  • Loss of interest in or ability to have sex
  • Weakened bones
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Enlarged and tender breasts
  • Fatigue

Some common side effects for women who receive hormone therapy for breast cancer include: 

  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Changes in your periods if you have not yet reached menopause
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Nausea
  • Mood changes
  • Fatigue

Staying on Track with Hormonal Therapy

Taking hormonal therapy medicines to treat hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer is a long-term commitment. You’ll most likely take hormonal therapy for 5 or 10 years to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. You’ll get the best results from treatment when you follow your personal treatment plan completely and on schedule. Doctors call this “full compliance.” Staying on track with hormonal therapy can be a challenge, especially after the first few months.

Breast Cancer Hormone Therapy

The female hormones oestrogen and progesterone affect some breast cancers. Doctors describe these cancers as oestrogen receptor positive (ER+) or progesterone receptor positive (PR+) or both. Hormone treatment for breast cancer works by stopping these hormones getting to the breast cancer cells. You may have more than one type of hormone therapy to treat breast cancer. For early breast cancer, it aims to stop the cancer coming back.

Prostate Cancer Hormone Therapy

Prostate cancer depends on testosterone to grow. Hormone therapy blocks or lowers the amount of testosterone in the body. This can lower the risk of an early prostate cancer coming back when you have it with other treatments. Or, it can shrink an advanced prostate cancer or slow its growth.

Uterine Cancer Hormone Therapy

The female hormones estrogen and progesterone affect the growth and activity of the cells that line the uterus. Doctors use progesterone treatment to help shrink larger uterine cancers or to treat uterine cancers that have come back. There are different types of progesterone that doctors can give including medroxyprogesterone acetate (Provera) and megestrol (Megace).