Hormone therapy is a type of cancer treatment that delays or stops the growth of cancer that are developed by hormones with the help of synthetic hormones. It is designed to block the effect of natural hormones. The objective of this treatment is to reduce the amount of hormones that get into the tumor. Apart from stopping the growth of cancer it can also decrease the size of the tumor. Hormone therapy is used for two primary reasons. One, is to treat cancer as it reduces the chance of cancer recurrence and the second is to ease the symptoms of cancer. However, easing symptoms of cancer can only be used in prostate cancer patients who are unable to undergo surgery or radiation therapy. The treatment is given through oral medications or injection shots.
Before delving into the treatment of hormone therapy, it is vital to understand what hormones are. Hormones are proteins or substances produced in the body as its natural mechanism. Hormones have an impact on how the body work as they control how cells function. Hormones carry information and instructions from one group of cells to another. They control various functions of the body such as growth, development and reproduction. Different types of hormones are produced by different glands or organs. Hormone therapy is given in the form of oral medications or injections. Certain cancers require surgical removal of some parts of the body to hinder the production of hormones. For instance, ovaries could be removed to stop the production of estrogen hormones.
Certain types of cancers rely on hormones to grow. Therefore, hormone therapy is effective in blocking the growth of the hormones. Cancers that can be treated with hormonal therapies are particular types of breast cancer and prostate cancer which rely on the sex hormones to develop.
Hormone therapy is known as a systemic treatment as the hormones that the drug target, circulate in the body. The drugs in this treatment will travel through the entire body to seek out the hormones. This is how hormone therapy is distinct from other types of treatments that impact a particular part of the body, such as surgery or radiation.
The objectives of hormone therapy is to stop the body from producing hormones, block or hinder the hormones from attaching to cancer cells and causes the hormone in the body to change so it does not work as it supposed to. Hormone therapy can treat a particular type of cancer by stopping its growth and it can subside the symptoms of some cancers.
The types of cancers that can be treated with hormone therapy are prostate and breast cancers that develop with the help of hormones. However, hormone therapy is not often used on its own but along with other cancer treatments. If cancer has spread to other parts of the body, how far it has gone, whether the cancer uses hormones to develop and if the patient has other health issues are factors that will determine if hormone therapy will be used for treatment.
Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer
Estrogen and progesterone can have an impact on certain types of breast cancer. Proteins are receptors of breast cancer cells that are linked to estrogen and progesterone. These two types of hormones help breast cancer cells to grow. Female patients who have tumors that are hormone receptor-positive are recommended to receive hormone therapy. This treatment can reach any cancer cells in the body not just cells in the breast. However, patients with hormones receptor-negative will not respond to hormone therapy.
Hormone therapy is widely used to treat breast cancer after the surgery with the objective of diminishing the risks of cancer to return. In some cases, the treatment is given prior to surgery. The duration of the treatment is generally 5 years. Nonetheless, patients who have higher chance of cancer recurrence will be treated for more than 5 years. Breast Cancer Index is a test that is done to determine if the patient will be benefitted from over-5-years of hormone therapy. This type of treatment is sometimes used in cancers that have returned or have spread to other parts of the body.
How does hormone therapy work?
Most of the breast cancers detected are hormone receptor-positive, meaning the cells have receptors for estrogen and progesterone that causes the cancer cells to grow. About 2 out of 3 breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive. Their cells have receptors (proteins) for estrogen (ER-positive cancers) and/or progesterone (PR-positive cancers) which help the cancer cells to grow and spread. There are several types of hormone therapy for breast cancer. Most of them either lower the estrogen levels in the body or stop estrogen from helping breast cancer cells to grow.
Hormone therapy for breast cancer can prevent cancer recurrence, reduces the risk of cancer arising in other breast tissues, delays or cease the growth of cancer that has metastasized and shrink the size of the cancerous tumor before the surgical removal.
Side effects that have been commonly found in women who receive hormone therapy for breast cancer are hot flashes, vaginal discharge, dryness or irritation. Women who have not reached menopause may experience changes in their period, no interests for sex, nausea, mood swings, and fatigue.
Hormone Therapy for Prostate Cancer
Hormone therapy is also an androgen suppression. The objective is to lower the levels of male hormones known as androgens or hinder them from stimulating the growth of prostate cancer. The primary androgens are testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Majority of these hormones are produced by the testicles. However, adrenal glands and prostate cancer cells can produce these hormones as well. By reducing the levels of these hormones or by ceasing them from reaching the prostate cancer cells tend to cause the prostate cancers to shrink or delay their growth. Nevertheless, prostate cancer cannot be cured by hormone therapy alone, possibly surgical removal of the testicles may require.
Hormone therapy is used when cancer has advanced, metastasized too far that it cannot be treated by surgery or radiation. Or in some cases when patients are unable to receive these treatments for certain reasons. It will also be used if there is a residual cancer or if cancer has returned after the surgery or radiation. If patient has high risk of cancer recurrence after radiation therapy while having high PSA level or cancer grew outside the prostate gland, hormone therapy will be considered. Additionally, the treatment can be used to shrink the size of the cancer before radiation therapy is given to reach an optimum effect. This may relieve the symptoms as well. Hormone therapy can boost the effects of external beam radiation therapy to lower the chance of cancer recurrence.
All types of cancer treatment have more or less side effects. Certainly, hormone therapy falls into one of them. The possible side effects for men who have received hormone therapy for prostate cancer include, hot flashes, fatigue, nausea, joint and muscle pain, no interests or ability to have sex, bones weakened, diarrhea, and tender or enlarged breasts.