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Hormone therapy is a type of cancer treatment that is used to reach cancer cells anywhere in the body, regardless of the area where the cancer was found. Sometime hormone therapy may also be referred to as:

  • Hormonal Therapy
  • Hormone Treatment
  • Endocrine Therapy

Hormones are special chemical messengers made by endocrine glands that occur naturally in the body. One of the many jobs they have on the body is controlling the growth and activity of certain hormone-sensitive tissues and cells, such as breast and prostate tissue. Sometimes, cancer cells found in the hormone-sensitive tissues become hormone-sensitive or hormone-dependent, meaning they rely on hormones to grow or develop, and the cancer’s growth may then be caused by the body’s own hormones. 

Certain breast cancers and prostate cancers require hormones to grow and spread. Hormone therapy works by blocking the action of the hormones or altering the way they work, including slowing or stopping the cancer from continuing to grow.

Drugs used in hormonal therapy block hormone production or change the way hormones work, and/or removal of organs that secrete hormones, such as the ovaries or testicles, are ways of fighting cancer. Similar to chemotherapy, hormone therapy is considered a systemic treatment in that it is designed to have a widespread effect on the cancer cells in the body. The treatment period for hormone therapy is determined on a case by case basis but often lasts several years.

Hormone therapy is sometimes used to shrink cancer tumors prior to surgery, but it’s most often used following treatment to help reduce the chances of cancer returning or spreading.

How is Hormone Therapy Used for Cancer Treatments?

Hormone therapy is often used:

  1. After surgery – to help reduce the risk of a cancer recurrence. 
  2. As the cancer treatment – to lessen the chance that the cancer will return or stop/slow its growth.
  3. To ease cancer symptoms – to reduce or prevent symptoms in men with prostate cancer who are not able to have surgery or radiation therapy. 
  4. Before surgery – your doctor may decide that your treatment plan includes hormone therapy before surgery as an alternative to chemotherapy. 

Hormone therapy is administered through a pill or injection, typically for years following other cancer treatments. The side effects of hormone therapy differ for men using hormone therapy for the treatment of prostate cancer and women for the treatment of breast cancer. 

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