Hormone Therapy for Cancer

Hormones are chemicals produced by the body that serve specific functions such as homeostasis (self-regulation) and growth and development. Some examples include sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Some types of cancer, often referred to as hormone-receptor positive cancers, rely on hormones to spread. Hormone therapy can be used to cut off cancerous cells’ access to the hormones they need to grow and multiply. This can be accomplished by:

  • Stopping the body from producing the hormone
  • Keeping the cancerous cells from attaching to the hormone
  • Modifying the hormone so that it does not function as normal

Types of Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy, also referred to as hormonal or endocrine therapy, refers to the medical manipulation of certain hormones as part of a treatment plan for a variety of health conditions that affect both males and females.

Because the body relies on a wide array of hormones, there are many different types of hormone therapy treatments that can be used depending on the specific condition at hand. For example, the following may be recommended for treating cancer:

  • Aromatase inhibitors, which reduce estrogen levels by blocking the aromatase enzyme
  • Adrenal steroid inhibitors/androgen deprivation therapy, which keeps androgen hormone levels low, preventing cancer cells from attaching and growing
  • Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), which inhibit cancerous cells’ ability to connect with estrogen
  • Estrogen receptor down regulators (ERDs), which blocks cancer cells from connecting with estrogen by altering the shape of estrogen receptors
  • Ovarian suppression, which keeps the ovaries from producing estrogen and progesterone

Hormone therapy treatment can involve any one or combination of the following:

  • Pharmaceutical drugs that mimic the effects of natural hormones
  • Administration of bioidentical hormones (processed, plant-based hormones) via injection
  • Surgery that involves removing the gland(s) that produce the hormones on which cancerous cells rely for growth

Conditions Treated With Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy can be used to treat many conditions that are linked to the body’s production (or lack thereof) of certain hormones. It may be recommended for:

Hormone therapy for cancer is often combined with other forms treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy to achieve optimal results.

Hormone Therapy Risks & Side Effects

As is the case with other forms of cancer treatment, there are risks and side effects associated with hormone treatment, which will vary depending on the patient’s overall health and the specific treatment being used. Possible side effects can include:

  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Back pain, joint pain and general body aches
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of libido (sex drive)
  • Breast tenderness
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Weight loss or gain

If your doctor recommends hormone therapy as part of your cancer treatment plan, the specific risks and side effects will be discussed with you prior to the start of your treatment.

Effectiveness of Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy can help slow or even halt the spread of certain cancers, especially when administered in conjunction with other forms of treatment. Its effectiveness can vary depending on the condition being treated. For example, in cases of breast or prostate cancer, hormone therapy is supplemental to the entire treatment process as the use of hormones can slow or stop the progression of the cancer rather than getting rid of it. For other conditions like menopause, hormone therapy treats the symptoms of the condition.

Become a Patient

At Tampa General Hospital’s Cancer Institute, our team of medical professionals includes board-certified endocrinologists and other specialized physicians who work to develop personalized hormone therapy treatment plans on a case-by-case basis at our nationally ranked hospital. In fact, TGH has earned the designation of High Performing Hospital for Cancer care by U.S. News & World Report in 2022-23. In addition, our dedicated Care Navigators ensure each patients’ journey throughout treatment is as smooth as possible. Contact us at (800) 844-4151 to schedule an appointment at a time and day most convenient for you, or use our Physician Finder to find a cancer specialist.