Hormone Therapy

Certain cancers are fueled by hormones, causing them to grow and spread more quickly. In these cases, hormone therapy may be used to block or interfere with hormone production in order to slow or stop the cancer from spreading.

Hormone therapy is commonly used to treat breast cancer, prostate cancer and some gynecologic cancers. Although it is 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). 

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 target and find the hormones.

Hormone therapy may be used in addition to other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. The types of treatment you are prescribed are based on the type of cancer and the specific hormone the cancer uses to grow.

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: 

  1. Hormone therapies that block the body’s ability to produce hormones
  2. Hormone therapies that interfere with how hormones behave in the body

Hormone therapy can be administered in a few different ways:

  • Oral hormone therapy. Hormone therapy comes in pills or a liquid that you swallow. 
  • Injected hormone therapy. 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.
  • Surgical ablation. You may have surgery to remove organs that produce hormones. In women, the ovaries are removed. In men, the testicles are removed (orchiectomy). This, however, is not as common as hormone therapy with medications.  

Your NYOH oncologist will determine the best method for your specific type of cancer.

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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

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 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. 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
  • 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 NYOH oncologist if you need help managing any side effects from cancer treatments.