Hormone Therapy for Cancer Treatment

Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that slows or stops the growth of cancer cells that are fueled by hormones. It’s most commonly used for hormone-positive breast cancer or prostate cancer. Hormone therapy is also called hormonal therapy, hormone treatment, or endocrine therapy.

Unlike local treatments, such as surgery and radiation therapy, which affect only a certain part of the body, hormone therapy is considered a systemic treatment. This is because the drugs used in hormone therapy travel throughout the body to suppress the release of a specific hormone.

Hormone therapy may be used in combination with other cancer treatments. Factors such as your type of cancer, its stage, how far it’s grown, and if you have other health problems will determine what type of treatment(s) will be recommended. 

How Hormone Therapy Works

Hormone therapy for cancer treatment falls into two broad groups: 

  1. Those that block the body’s ability to produce hormones
  2. Those that interfere with hormones acting as the fuel for cancer cells

Hormone therapy may be given in a few different ways:


Hormone Therapies for Breast Cancer Treatment

Several strategies are used to treat hormone receptor-positive (HR+) breast cancers. Some drugs block the effects of estrogen or progesterone on the cancer cells while other hormone therapies prevent estrogen or progesterone production altogether. 

While most often used following treatment to help reduce the chances of cancer returning or spreading, there are times it might be used to shrink cancer tumors prior to surgery (called neoadjuvant therapy). Some patients might also receive hormone therapy to help ease cancer symptoms. This is called palliative care or supportive care. 

For breast cancer patients, hormone therapy is most often used for 3-5 years after treatment so that there are fewer hormones in the body to encourage regrowth of cancer cells. 

Common hormone therapy drugs include Tamoxifen (Nolvadex®), Arimidex® (anastrozole), Aromasin® (exemestane), Femara® (letrozole), Evista® (raloxifene), along with Faslodex® for recurrent breast cancer.

Breast cancer in males may also be treated with Tamoxifen.


Hormone Therapies for Prostate Cancer Treatment

Male hormones (called androgens) cause prostate cancer cells to grow. Androgens support a healthy prostate gland; however, they can also promote the growth of cancerous prostate cells. 

When using hormone therapy for prostate cancer, the treatment can block the production or use of androgens in one of the following ways: 

  • By blocking androgen production (synthesis) throughout the body
  • By reducing androgen production by the testicles
  • By blocking the action of androgens throughout the body

These medications, also sometimes called anti-androgens, include Casodex® (bicalutamide), flutamide (available as a generic drug), Nilandron® (nilutamide), Erleada® (apalutamide), Nubeqa® (darolutamide), and Xtandi® (enzalutamide).

Hormone Therapy Side Effects

Hormone therapy blocks your body’s ability to produce hormones or interferes with how hormones behave. Therefore, 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 of hormone therapy can include:

  • Fatigue 
  • Hot flashes 
  • Night sweats 
  • Sex disfunction (lack of interest)
  • Weakened bones
  • Mood changes 
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Enlarged, tender breasts
  • Vaginal dryness in women
  • Changes to the menstrual cycle in women

Some side effects go away when treatment ends, but some can last beyond the treatment period. Be sure to talk with your CMOH oncologist if you need help managing any side effects from cancer treatments.

Is Hormone Therapy Right for You?

If you have received a cancer diagnosis that is known for being fueled by hormones, tests will be run to see if this type of treatment would be effective. Schedule a consultation with a CMOH oncologist for an analysis of your diagnosis and to receive a personalized treatment plan.

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