Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy is a type of cancer therapy that is used to reach cancer cells anywhere in the body, regardless of the area where the cancer was found. Sometime hormone therapy may also be referred to as:

  • Hormonal Therapy
  • Hormone Treatment
  • Endocrine Therapy

Hormones are special chemical messengers made by endocrine glands that occur naturally in the body. One of the many jobs they have on the body is the controlling of the growth and activity of certain hormone sensitive tissues and cells, such as breast and prostate tissue. Sometimes, cancer cells found in the hormone sensitive tissues become hormone sensitive or hormone dependent, meaning they rely on hormones to grow or develop, and the cancer’s growth then may be caused by the body’s own hormones.

In cases such as these, blocking the action of hormones or altering the way they work could slow or stop the cancer from growing. Drugs used in hormonal therapy block hormone production or change the way hormones work, and/or removal of organs that secrete hormones, such as the ovaries or testicles, are ways of fighting cancer. Similar to chemotherapy, hormone therapy is considered a systemic treatment in that it is designed to have a widespread effect on the cancer cells in the body. The treatment period for hormone therapy is determined on a case by case basis, but often lasts several years.

How is Hormone Therapy Used for Cancer Treatments?

Hormone therapy is often used:

  1. After surgery - to help reduce the risk of a cancer recurrence.
  2. As the cancer treatment - to lessen the chance that the cancer will return or stop/slow it’s growth.
  3. To ease cancer symptoms - to reduce or prevent symptoms in men with prostate cancer who are not able to have surgery or radiation therapy.
  4. Before surgery - your doctor may decide that your treatment plan includes hormone therapy before surgery as an alternative to chemotherapy.

Side Effects of Hormone Therapy

Hormone treatments block or interfere with your body’s natural hormone production, which can result in unwanted side effects. Side effects of hormone therapy will 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