What is hormone therapy for cancer?

Hormone therapy (HRT) involves using hormones to treat certain cancers such as breast cancer, cancer of prostrate and uterine or endometrial cancer. This post tells you how effective this therapy is in treating cancer, how it works, the advantages and side effects

The cancers mentioned above are hormone-dependent, meaning they need hormones to grow. Therefore, if the hormone is prevented from reaching the cancer cells, their growth and spread can be stopped. This is the principle on which hormone therapy works in the treatment of cancer.

Hormone therapy is also called hormonal therapy, hormone treatment, or endocrine therapy. It is usually used along with other cancer therapies for treatment and to relieve cancer symptoms.

This therapy is a systemic cancer treatment because the hormones given to the patient circulate throughout the body to find and target the hormones.

How hormone therapy is used to treat cancer?

Hormones are proteins that the body makes to regulate the function of certain types of cells.

Some cancers are dependent on hormones to grow. As a result, if the action of the concerned hormones is blocked, it can slow or stop the growth of these cancers. Examples of such cancers that need hormones to grow and spread are cancers of the breast, prostate, and uterus.

Hormone therapy is most commonly used in the treatment of

  • breast cancer
  • cancer of the prostate
  • uterine cancer

How hormone therapy for cancer works?

There are different types of hormone therapies and they work in different ways. The hormones therapy agents are given to the patient and they travel throughout the body to find and block the hormones.

Breast and prostate cancers are the two types of cancers most commonly treated with hormone therapy.

Most breast tumors have either estrogen or progesterone receptors, or both. This means they need these hormones in order to grow and spread.

Prostate cancer needs testosterone and other male sex hormones, such as dihydrotestosterone to grow and spread. Hormone therapy stops these hormones from being available to the growing cancer cells.

It acts in the following ways:

  • It stops the body from making the hormone
  • It stops the hormone from attaching to cancer cells
  • The hormonal agents change the hormone so its mode of action is altered and it does not help the cancer cells to grow.

How is hormone therapy given to the patient?

The most common ways hormone therapy for cancer is given are:

  • As an oral  pill, capsule, or liquid
  • An injection in your arm, leg, hip, or abdomen
  • As an implant
  • By surgery, which removes the organs that make hormones, such as ovaries in women or testicles in men

How quickly does hormone therapy work?

The answer to this question is mixed. Some patients feel relief from most symptoms within 1 to 3 days after starting the therapy.

Most patients begin to experience the benefits of hormone therapy 1 to 2 weeks after starting the treatment.

How quickly you respond to hormone therapy depends on three things:

  1. The general health of your body
  2. Dosage of your treatment
  3. The nature of your lifestyle habits

What are the advantages of hormone therapy for cancer?

Hormone therapy is used to:

  • treat cancer and it can slow its growth and minimize the chance of recurrence.
  • give symptomatic relief in men with prostate cancer who cannot have surgery or radiation therapy.

Hormone therapy side effects

Hormone therapy does have certain disadvantages. The side effects of hormone therapy can be divided into:

1) Common side effects that are not serious

2) Rare side effects that are serious

1. Common side effects

  • Impotence in men
  • Vaginal dryness, vaginal discharge, and irregular menstrual periods in women
  • Skin rashes
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Muscle pain and joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Memory problems

2.  Rare and serious side effects of hormone therapy

  • Increased risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Increased risk of uterine cancer
  • Osteoporosis leading to bone loss and increased risk of fractures
  • Cataract
  • Thrombosis in the veins increasing the risk of blood clots

Many of these side effects of hormone therapy are reversible after you stop the therapy. The degree of reversal depends on the duration of your hormone treatment. Some side effects such as reduced or loss of fertility are not reversible.

How long does the effect of hormone therapy last for cancer?

On average, hormone therapy can stop the growth and spread of cancer for two to three years. However, it varies from person to person. Some men do well on hormone therapy for a much longer period.

What is the success rate of hormone therapy?

Generally, hormone therapy can stop the progress of breast cancer for two to three years. However, some men do well on this therapy for a much longer period.

Hormone therapy patients had a 100% survival rate at 6 years as opposed to 87% in people who did not take hormone therapy.

Both groups of cancer were detected early by screening with mammography. It was observed that the survival benefit for those women who had received HRT was better.