When you hear that someone you know is about to start hormone therapy, it can conjure all sorts of ideas, mainly because many of us don’t actually know what hormone therapy is and what it is used for.
If you’re one of these people, and you’re aren’t sure what it does, this short article is going to help demystify hormone therapy and help you understand why it is becoming a traditional treatment method for many illnesses, especially for cancer. Let’s look at some popular questions and hopefully provide concise answers which are simple to understand.
*Please note that this article is looking solely at hormone therapy as a treatment and not hormone replacement therapy, which is an entirely different treatment*
What is hormone therapy?
Hormone therapy is a treatment used to help attack cancer as a way of reducing the risk of tumour growth and slow the production of cancerous cells.
Why would someone get hormone therapy?
A doctor would advise a patient gets hormone therapy to help attack the cancer directly, or help control a tumour for a set period of time before a patient undergoes radiotherapy. It is best to think of it as a control at the start of a patient's treatment path.
Does hormone therapy get rid of cancer?
Hormone therapy cannot get rid of cancer by itself. It needs to be used alongside other treatments to help control tumour growth, and in many cases, try to limit the side-effects of cancer.
What form does hormone therapy take?
This is the most important aspect to understand, as it helps paint a picture of why the treatment can vary wildly between people. Hormone therapy is carried out in any of these three ways; orally, as an injection, or via surgery.
The first two would be the typical means for helping improve healthy hormone levels in the body while blocking some of the problem areas producing hormones, while surgery is typically reserved for reducing the number of hormones in the body (i.e. reproductive organs like the testicles and ovaries and their associated cancers).
Someone may take tablets at home along with other medicines, or they may have to have injections near the problem area, which targets the tumour.
What cancers are hormone therapy used on?
Any cancer may benefit from hormone therapy, but the two most common would be prostate and breast cancer. These are both cancers which rely on hormones in a big way to grow. With any cancer, controlling the hormones can help to:
Shrink or minimise a tumour before other treatments (e.g. surgery) are carried out
Keep hormone levels in the area low to improve chances that a tumour won’t return
Stop the spread of cancerous cells, also referred to as stage progression
Does hormone therapy always work?
It is a trusted treatment, but cancer affects everyone who gets it in a completely different way. Birmingham Prostate Clinic points out (when looking at prostate cancer) that “Hormones combined with radiotherapy have been shown to increase the cure rates in patients with more aggressive forms of prostate cancer”.
Does hormone therapy have side effects?
Yes. Hot flushes would be the most common as treatment can interfere with normal body processes. A patient may also experience bouts of fatigue and loss of interest in having sex.
Will hormone therapy impact daily activity?
It all depends on the patient and how sick they are. For example, some people who are prescribed hormone tablets to take at home may have Stage 0 or Stage 1 cancer which is easier to control and doesn’t impede with daily activity.
Leading a healthier life
I hope this article has helped bring some clarity to understanding how hormone therapy is used for anyone fighting cancer. If you’re interested in more health articles, you may be interested in this recent addition to the site on Top Tips For a Healthy Digestive System.