Introduction: What is Hormone Therapy?
Hormones are chemical substances produced by specific tissues or organs in the body. They are carried around the body in the bloodstream and act as chemical messengers. When a hormone-producing organ develops a tumour, the hormone production increases, affecting the body’s functioning.
Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that blocks, alters, adds or removes specific hormones and reduces the effect of cancer on the body. Some cancers grow in response to hormones, and this treatment, also called endocrinal therapy, slows down or stops the growth of cancers by blocking the effect of the hormone on the cancer cells.
How Does Hormone Therapy Work?
Hormone therapies alter the levels of a specific hormone in different ways. Your doctor will recommend you undergo a few diagnostic tests to help determine if your cancer responds or is sensitive to hormones.
Hormone therapy for cancer treatment is used for the following reasons:
- To prevent the body from making a particular hormone
- Alter or change the way a hormone acts in the body
- Blocks the binding of the hormone to the cancer cells by modifying the hormone receptors
Which Cancers Are Treated Using Hormone Therapy?
Hormone therapy has proven to be effective in treating many cancers. Some cancers that are most effectively treated with hormone therapy are:
Other cancers that may be treated with this treatment are:
- Thyroid cancer
- Adrenal cancer
- Neuroendocrine cancer
- Pituitary gland cancer
Does Hormone Therapy Cause Side Effects?
The side effects of hormone therapy depend upon the area of the body you are receiving treatment for, the location of cancer and how your body reacts to the treatment. Since everyone responds differently to hormone therapy, side effects vary even between men and women, and may include:
- Hot flashes
- Loss of interest or inability to have sex
- Weak bones
- Men being treated for prostate cancer may experience enlarged breasts
- Women being treated for breast cancer may experience changes in the menstrual cycle, mood changes and vaginal dryness.
What To Expect During Hormone Therapy?
If you are recommended to undergo hormone therapy for your cancer, it may be given in the following ways:
You will be given the hormone as a pill, capsule or liquid to consume orally.
- Injection therapy
In some cases, you will receive hormone therapy as a shot in a muscle in your arm, thigh, or hip. It may also be given under the skin in the fatty part of your arms, legs or abdomen.
- Surgical ablation
The hormone-producing organ, such as the testicles or the ovaries, are often removed surgically. This procedure is performed only in a hospital.
You may receive hormone therapy at home, in your doctor’s clinic or a hospital setting.
Seeking a Second Opinion
If your cancer treatment includes hormone therapy, your doctor will create a treatment plan that mentions the amount of drug you need to take and its frequency. Several factors determine your treatment plan, such as:
- The type and stage of your cancer
- Risk of recurrence or relapse
- Other cancer treatments you have already undergone
- Side effects you have already experienced
- In women, if menopause has occurred
With hormone therapy, many younger people worry about fertility. If you are of child-bearing age, your doctor will suggest the most suitable alternative to preserve your fertility before hormone therapy.
It is natural to have several questions about your cancer with hormone therapy. Discuss with your doctor the same. If you are unsure at any point in your treatment journey, seek a second opinion from another specialist.