Hormone Therapy: Side Effects and What to Expect
If you’ve been told that hormone therapy is a part of your recommended cancer treatment plan, you may have questions about both the short term and long term impacts it can have on your body. The responses to hormone therapy are likely to be different based on your gender and the type of cancer being treated.
We hope this guide will address some of your questions and concerns regarding what to expect during hormone therapy for cancer, including the side effects.
How will I get hormone therapy?
The goal of hormone therapy, sometimes called endocrine therapy, is to starve the cancer of the hormones it needs to keep growing. Hormone therapy usually involves taking medications that either stop, block, or add hormones to slow the cancer cells’ growth. Hormone therapy may take place in many ways, which can include:
- Oral: Hormone therapy comes in pills that you swallow.
- Injection: The hormone therapy can be given by a shot in a muscle in your arm, thigh, or hip, or right under the skin in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or belly.
- Surgery: You may have surgery to remove the hormone-producing organs. In women, the ovaries are removed. In men, the testicles are removed. However, medications are more common than surgery.
There are various hormone therapy drugs that treat common cancer types; however, the type of hormone therapy you receive will be determined by your oncologist based on multiple factors.
How do you determine if hormone therapy is right for me?
Your RMCC oncologist will determine whether hormone therapy may be a promising treatment option for you. He or she will do this by considering your specific cancer type, treatment goals, and personal preferences.
The most common types of cancer treated by hormone therapy are breast cancer and prostate cancer. However, this treatment option may be available to patients with certain types of endometrial (uterine) cancer and adrenal cancer.
Will I have other treatments in addition to hormone therapy?
Your RMCC oncologist may recommend using hormone therapy in combination with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. When used with other treatments, hormone therapy can:
- Make a tumor smaller before surgery or radiation therapy. This is called neoadjuvant therapy.
- Lower the risk that cancer will come back after the primary treatment. This is called adjuvant therapy.
- Destroy cancer cells that have returned or spread to other parts of your body.
How often and for how long will I need hormone therapy?
How often you have hormone therapy will depend on the type of drug you are receiving and the type of cancer treated. Some medications need to be administered monthly, while others don’t have to be administered quite as frequently.
In regards to how long hormone therapy will last, this will vary based upon the type of cancer you have and how well you are responding to treatment. For some people, it could continue for a few months. However, it is normal to need to continue with hormone therapy for several years. A common example is women undergoing hormone therapy for breast cancer – it is normal to continue with treatment for five to seven years.
What is unique about receiving hormone therapy at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers?
At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, your cancer care team will design a personalized cancer treatment plan that provides the ideal combination of therapies for the best possible outcome. Under our care, you will be monitored closely to determine if your hormone therapy is working. This involves regular PSA tests for prostate cancer treatment and regular checkups for breast cancer treatment.
Rest assured, you are in good hands with Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers. We believe in treating the whole person, not just the disease, which is why we will work hard to create the best cancer treatment plan for you.
What side effects can I expect after hormone therapy?
Because hormone therapy blocks your body’s ability to produce hormones or interferes with how hormones behave, it can cause unwanted side effects. The side effects you have will depend on the type of hormone therapy you receive and how your body responds.
People respond differently to the same treatment, so not everyone gets the same side effects. Some side effects also differ if you are a man or a woman.
The side effects of hormone therapy can include:
- Hot flashes
- Loss of interest in or ability to have sex
- Weakened bones
- Enlarged, tender breasts
- Vaginal dryness in women
- Changes to the menstrual cycle in women
- Changes in mood
Managing Hormonal Therapy Side Effects
Unfortunately, there is no way to determine how hormone therapy treatment will affect you. The good news is that many of these side effects are treatable, and most side effects go away once treatment is finished.
Often, side effects such as hot flashes and bone thinning can be treated with prescription medication, while exercise can help with side effects such as weight gain, fatigue, and the loss of bone and muscle mass.
Be sure to talk with your RMCC oncologist if you need help managing any side effects from cancer treatments.