Hormonal therapy adds, blocks or removes hormones to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells that need hormones to grow. Hormonal therapy is also called hormone withdrawal therapy, hormone manipulation or endocrine therapy.
Hormones are chemicals that travel in the blood and control how some cells and organs act and grow. Natural hormones are produced by glands or organs in the body. Artificial or synthetic hormones can be made in a lab. The ovaries produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, which are involved in reproduction and the testicles produce the male hormone testosterone, which is involved in reproduction.
Hormonal therapy may be used alone as the main treatment or with other treatments. It may be used before surgery to shrink the tumour and make it easier to remove or before radiation therapy to shrink the tumour so radiation can be given to a smaller area. Hormonal therapy may be given in addition to main treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy to lower the risk that the cancer will come back (recur).
There are several types of hormonal therapy that change the levels of hormones in the body. Hormonal therapy is usually given along with other treatments. The type of hormonal therapy used depends on a number of factors including which type of cancer is being treated.
Surgery removes glands or organs to stop them from producing hormones or to work against a hormone in the body.
Radiation therapy destroys or damages hormone-producing tissue to stop hormone production.
Hormonal drug therapy
Some drugs interfere with hormone-producing cells so they can’t make hormones. Other drugs work against a hormone or a hormone’s effects in the body. Hormone-dependent cancer cells have receptors on their surfaces. Receptors are sites where the hormones attach to the cancer cells and tell them to grow.
A sample of the tumour may be tested to find out the type of hormone receptor on the surface of the cancer cells and the amount of receptor (hormone receptor level). Generally, the higher the hormone receptor level, the more responsive the tumour will be to hormonal drug therapy.
Hormone replacement therapy is a bit of a misnomer. It’s natural for men’s testosterone levels to decrease as they get older. So, hormone therapy doesn’t replace anything that is naturally missing.
Testosterone is required for; male sexual development, reproductive function, building muscle bulk, maintaining healthy levels of red blood cells, maintaining bone density. However, the natural decrease of this hormone in men typically doesn’t affect overall health any more than the aging process does.
Medical experts disagree about the significance of a testosterone level decrease. They also disagree about the health benefits of hormone therapy use to combat the natural aging process in men, especially given the risks.
Some men with unnaturally low levels of testosterone can benefit from hormone therapy. For example, the condition hypogonadism can cause unnaturally low levels of testosterone. It’s a dysfunction of the testicles that prevents the body from producing the right amount of testosterone.
What’s less certain is whether testosterone therapy can benefit healthy men whose testosterone decline is simply caused by aging. This has been a difficult question for researchers to answer. Not many studies have observed the effects of testosterone therapy in men with healthy levels of the hormone. The studies that have were smaller and had unclear results.
If your doctor suggests testosterone therapy, several options are available. These include:
Intramuscular testosterone injections: Your doctor will inject these into the muscles of your buttocks every two to three weeks.
Testosterone patches: You apply these each day to your back, arms, buttocks, or abdomen. Be sure to rotate the application sites.
Topical testosterone gel: You apply this each day to your shoulders, arms, or abdomen.
Side effects are a primary drawback of hormone therapy with testosterone. While some of the side effects are relatively minor, others are more serious.
Minor potential side effects of hormone therapy with testosterone include: Fluid retention, acne and increased urination. More severe potential side effects include: breast enlargement, decreased testicle size, worsening of existing sleep apnea, increased cholesterol levels, decreased sperm count, infertility, and increased number of red blood cells.
Hormone therapy can be a helpful treatment for men with unnaturally low levels of testosterone. However, it doesn’t come without risks. These risks may outweigh the benefits if you’re considering hormone therapy to make up for a natural decrease in testosterone levels.
Talk with your doctor about safer alternatives. Resistance exercise can help you build muscle mass, and walking, running, and swimming can help keep your heart strong.