Hormonal Therapy

What is hormone therapy?

Hormones are substances made by our bodies to regulate certain bodily functions, like the growth of cells, including cancer cells of such organs. These kinds of cancers are hormone dependent or under the influence of specific hormones. Hormone therapy is used to lower the levels of specific hormones being produced in the body or to block the entry of specific hormones into cells in order to slow down or stop the growth of cancer. Hormone therapy is used in treatment of breast and prostate cancer.

What is hormone therapy used for?

Hormone therapy cannot be used to prevent the growth of all cancers but may slow or stop the growth of hormone-dependent cancers such as

  • breast cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • womb cancer (also known as uterine or endometrial cancer)

How does hormone therapy work?

Hormone therapy stops hormones from being produced in the body or blocks their entry into cells, including cancer cells, thus slowing or stopping hormone-sensitive cancers from growing and spreading. The type of hormone therapy will depend on the type of cancer you are diagnosed with.

Hormone therapy for breast cancer

Hormone therapy is recommended for women with breast cancer with ER-positive and PR-positive breast cancer cells. These types of breast cancer have receptors on the surface of cells, to which the hormone oestrogen attaches in order to gain entry into the cell or to influence the functions of the cell. It is usually used after surgery to prevent the cancer cells from coming back once the tumour has been removed. It works by either stopping hormone production or lowering hormone levels as well as by blocking oestrogen receptors on the remaining breast tissue as well as any cancerous cells.

What can be done about the side effects?
It is common for patients to experience hot flashes, vaginal discharge, fatigue or nausea with hormone therapy. These symptoms may be lessened by using various treatments.

Hormone therapy for prostate cancer

Hormone therapy is recommended for men with prostate cancer to reduce or suppress the androgen hormone. The androgen hormone stimulates the growth of cancer cells; therefore hormone therapy may be able to slow or stop the growth of prostate cancer by stopping androgens from working, or by suppressing androgen hormone levels. It may be used to shrink the size of the tumour before radiation, to prevent cancer cells from coming back after the tumour has been surgically removed or as an initial treatment for those with metastatic prostate cancer.

What can be done about the side effects?

It is common for patients to experience a loss of muscle mass, loss of sex drive, erectile dysfunction, hot flashes, decreased body hair and smaller genitalia as a result of the lack of androgen hormone. With her experience and compassion, Dr Ford will be able to address and discuss these side effects as well as possible treatments thereof with you during your consultation.