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Hormone Therapy for Cancer

What is hormone therapy?

Hormones are chemicals made by glands, such as the ovaries and testicles. Hormones help some types of cancer cells grow, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer. In other cases, hormones can kill cancer cells, slow their growth, or stop them from growing. Hormone therapy as a cancer treatment may be done by:

  • Taking medicines that interfere with the activity of the hormone

  • Taking medicines that stop the hormone from being made

  • Having surgery to remove a gland that is making the hormone

How does hormone therapy work?

Your healthcare provider may advise you to have a hormone receptor test. This test is done to help learn more about the tumor and to help determine your treatment options. This test can help to predict how the cells will react to hormones. Here is what the test results mean:

  • If the test is positive: This means the hormone is probably helping the cancer cells grow. In this case, hormone therapy may be given to block the way the hormone works. It can help keep them away from the hormone receptors on cancer cells.

  • If the test is negative: This means the hormone does not affect the growth of the cancer cells, and other cancer treatments may be given.

Talk about the results of the hormone receptor test with your healthcare provider.

How is hormone therapy done?

If the test shows that the hormones are affecting your cancer, the cancer may be treated in 1 of these ways:

  • Treating cancer cells to keep them from getting the hormones they need to grow

  • Treating the glands that make hormones to stop them from making hormones

  • Surgery to remove glands that make the hormones. This means the ovaries that make estrogen, or the testicles that make testosterone.

The type of hormone therapy you get depends on many factors, such as

  • The type and size of your tumor

  • Your age

  • If you have hormone receptors on the tumor

  • Other factors

When is hormone therapy given?

With some cancers, people may be given hormone therapy as soon as cancer is diagnosed, and before any other treatment. It may shrink a tumor. Or it may stop the growth of the cancer.

You may have hormone therapy before or after other cancer treatments. These are called:

  • Neoadjuvant treatment. This is hormone therapy done before the main cancer treatment. It helps kill cancer cells and helps boost the success of the main treatment.

  • Adjuvant treatment. This is hormone therapy done after the main cancer treatment. It’s done to improve the chance of a cure.

For some cancer, such as prostate cancer, it is helpful in relieving the painful symptoms of advanced disease. The National Cancer Institute states that although hormone therapy cannot cure prostate cancer, it will usually shrink or halt the advance of disease, often for years.

Online Medical Reviewer: Daniel N Sacks MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham RN BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2020
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