Hormone therapy for prostate cancer has come a long way in the past few
decades. Not so long ago, the only hormonal treatment for this disease was
drastic: an orchiectomy, the surgical removal of the testicles.
Now we have a number of medications -- available as pills, injections, and
implants -- that can give men the benefits of decreasing male hormone levels
without irreversible surgery.
If you just learned that you or a loved one has advanced prostate cancer, you may have many questions and concerns. By taking the time to research your condition, you've taken a good first step. Here are answers to the most common questions. After looking over these answers, click on other articles in this guide to find in-depth information about treatments, side effects, and other issues that affect you and your family.
"I think hormonal therapy has done wonders for men with prostate
cancer," Stuart Holden, MD, Medical Director of the Prostate Cancer
Hormone therapy for prostate cancer does have limitations. Right now, it's
usually used only in men whose cancer has recurred or spread elsewhere in the
But even in cases where removing or killing the cancer isn't possible,
hormone therapy can help slow down cancer growth. Though it isn't a cure,
hormone therapy for prostate cancer can help men with prostate cancer feel
better and add years to their lives.
On average, hormone therapy can stop the advance of cancer for two to three
years. However, it varies from case to case. Some men do well on hormone
therapy for much longer.
What Is Hormone Therapy?
The idea that hormones have an effect on prostate cancer is not new. The
scientist Charles Huggins first established this over 60 years ago in work that
led to his winning the Nobel Prize. Huggins found that removing one of the main
sources of male hormones from the body -- the testicles -- could slow the
growth of the disease.
"This procedure worked dramatically," says Holden, who is also
director of the Prostate Cancer Center at Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los
Angeles. "Before, these men were confined to bed and wracked with pain.
Almost immediately afterwards, they improved."
Huggins found that some types of prostate cancer cells need certain male
hormones -- called androgens -- to grow. Androgens are responsible for male
sexual characteristics, like facial hair, increased muscle mass, and a deep
voice. Testosterone is one kind of androgen. About 90% to 95% of all androgens
are made in the testicles, while the rest are made in the adrenal glands
located on top of the kidneys.