Some cancers grow because of hormones present in the body. Usually, there is too much of a hormone that is fueling the cancer’s growth. A cancer treatment that slows or stops the growth of cancers that use hormones to grow is called hormone therapy. Prostate and breast cancers are commonly treated with hormone therapies.
Hormone therapy, also called hormonal therapy or endocrine therapy, is commonly used in addition to other cancer treatments. The types of treatment you are prescribed are based 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.
How Hormone Therapy Works
Hormones are naturally occurring substances that stimulate the growth of hormone-sensitive tissues, such as the breast or prostate gland. Hormone therapy drugs deprive cancer cells of the hormones they need to grow.
Hormone therapy falls into two broad groups:
- Hormone therapies that block the body’s ability to produce hormones
- Hormone therapies that interfere with the behaviors of your hormones.
Hormone therapy can be administered in a few different ways:
For breast cancer, hormone therapy is usually administered through a pill or injection, typically for years following other cancer treatments.
For prostate cancer, hormone therapy often consists of injections every 3 to 6 months. Or, it may be placed as an implant under the skin, allowing the medication to slowly release over a longer period of time. Sometimes, a pill may be prescribed. Surgery to remove the testicles (orchiectomy) may also be recommended in order to reduce testosterone levels.
Your WVCI oncologist will determine the best method for your specific type of cancer.
Hormone Therapies for Breast Cancer Treatment
Several treatment options are available for treating hormone-sensitive breast cancers. Some drugs block the effects of estrogen on the cancer cells in the breast, while others prevent estrogen production altogether.
Common hormone therapy drugs include Tamoxifen (Nolvadex®), Arimidex® (anastrozole), and Femara® (letrozole), along with Faslodex® for recurrent breast cancer.
Breast cancer in males may also be treated with tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is currently being studied as hormone therapy for the treatment of other types of cancer.
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
Hormone Therapy Side Effects
Hormone therapy either blocks your body’s ability to produce hormones or interferes with how hormones behave. This means that it can also cause some side effects. The side effects of hormone therapy will depend on the type of treatment you receive and how your body responds to it. These side effects are similar to what women may experience at menopause.
Some common side effects of hormone therapy can include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sex disfunction
- Weakened bones
- Mood changes
- Enlarged, tender breasts
- Vaginal dryness in women
- Changes to the menstrual cycle in women