What is hormone therapy for cancer?

Hormone therapy is a type of treatment for cancers that are sensitive to hormones such as breast, prostate, ovarian, thyroid, and uterine cancers. There are a variety of hormone treatments that can stop, block, or promote hormone production in the body to slow or stop cancer cell growth.

Hormones are produced in the body’s endocrine glands and are the body’s chemical messengers that control many bodily functions such as reproduction, emotions, and hunger. In some people, hormones can encourage the growth of cancerous cells in body areas that are heavily regulated by hormones such as the breasts and prostate.

During hormone therapy, you may take drugs that prevent cancer cells from receiving the hormones they need to divide and grow, or your doctor may remove the gland the produces the hormones. Hormone therapy may be used in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Hormone therapy for cancer treatment is often confused with hormone replacement therapy for women who are experiencing early menopause.

Who is a candidate for hormone therapy?

Your doctor will take into consideration your age, tumor stage and presence of hormone receptors on your tumor when determining whether you are a candidate for hormone therapy.

For breast cancer patients, your Mercy Health doctor will take a sample of your cancerous cells to determine if they have receptors that use estrogen or progesterone. If the cells have these receptors, this means they depend on hormones to replicate and grow and your doctor will likely recommend hormone therapy.

What are side effects of hormone therapy?

Side effects from hormone therapy vary based on the type of cancer you have.

If you have breast cancer, you may experience:

  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Vaginal irritation
  • Decreased libido
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Digestive issues
  • Hair loss
  • Headaches
  • Memory problems

If you have prostate cancer you may experience:

  • Inability to achieve an orgasm or erection
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings

Can hormone therapy be used for cancer prevention?

Hormone therapy can be used to prevent cancers in the breast. The breast cancer treatment drug, tamoxifen, can help reduce the cancer recurrence rate or lower risk of developing breast cancer in those who are high risk.

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