Hormones are chemicals that coordinate different functions in your body. But some types of cancer need hormones to grow and multiply. Hormone therapy cuts off cancer’s access to hormones. Healthcare providers may combine hormone therapy with treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Hormones are chemicals that coordinate different functions in your body. Your glands release hormones into your bloodstream, sending messages through your blood to your organs. Your body can’t function without hormones. But hormones may fuel cancer. Some cancerous cells need hormones to grow, multiply and spread.
Hormone therapy works by eliminating cancerous cells’ access to the hormones they need to grow. Healthcare providers may combine hormone therapy with treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. They may also use hormone therapy after treatment to lower the risk of cancer coming back.
Healthcare providers may use hormone therapy to:
Hormone therapy for prostate cancer typically uses different medications that block hormones from connecting with cancerous cells. In some instances, hormone therapy involves surgery to remove one or both testicles (orchiectomy). Medications may include:
Healthcare providers may also treat prostate cancer with a combination of hormone therapy and radiation therapy.
People may have different reactions to hormone therapy for prostate cancer. Ask your healthcare provider about specific side effects. Common side effects may include:
Estrogen plays a role in causing certain cancers. Cells in your body have hormone receptors. The hormone receptors are a type of protein. Estrogen in your bloodstream can attach to the receptors. About 8 out of 10 breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive (ER-positive). Healthcare providers treat breast cancer by lowering hormone levels or blocking hormones from attaching to breast cancer cells. Most often, healthcare providers use hormone therapy after surgery to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. However, they may also use it before surgery to shrink cancerous tumors (adjuvant therapy) or to treat cancer that’s spread to other parts of your body.
Hormone therapy for breast cancer may include aromatase inhibitors, selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) or estrogen receptor down regulators (ERDs):
Side effects from hormone therapy vary from person to person. Common side effects may include:
Healthcare providers may use hormones to treat a rare form of ovarian cancer. Hormone therapy for ovarian cancer may include luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone agonists: LHRH agonists, tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors.
Side effects may include:
Healthcare providers may use hormone therapy after surgery to remove cancerous uterine tumors, to treat advanced or recurring uterine cancer, or as palliative care to ease uterine cancer pain. Progestin is the most common hormone therapy for uterine cancer. These drugs work like the hormone progesterone, slowing uterine cancer cell growth. Healthcare providers may also treat uterine cancer with tamoxifen, LHRH agonists or aromatase inhibitors.
Side effects may include:
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Hormone drug therapy may involve injections of certain hormones or taking oral medications.
Like most cancer treatments, hormone drug therapy may cause side effects. Everyone’s experience is different. Your reaction to hormone drug therapy depends on factors like overall health and the kind of hormone drug therapy you received. Ask your healthcare provider about potential side effects, including side effects that may cause serious complications.
Hormone therapy may help slow or stop cancer from growing, particularly if it’s combined with other treatments.
Hormone therapy is one of many ways healthcare providers treat certain types of cancer. Depending on your situation, hormone therapy may keep cancer from growing or slow its growth. If you have cancer, ask your healthcare provider how hormone therapy may make a difference. They’re your best resource for information about your specific situation.
If you’re receiving hormone therapy for cancer, you’ll see your provider regularly depending on your treatment plan.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your hormones are essential. They tell your body what to do and when to do it. Certain types of cancer use hormones to grow and multiply. Hormone therapy for cancer blocks cancerous cells’ access to those hormones. If you have prostate cancer, advanced uterine cancer or a certain type of breast cancer, your healthcare provider may treat your condition with hormone therapy to keep cancer from growing or to slow down how fast it grows. Ask your provider about treatment options and which ones might be best for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/22/2022.
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