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Hormone Treatment Fights Prostate Cancer

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Different Approaches to Starting Hormone Therapy continued...

However, Holden argues that early treatment may be helpful. "I think one of the reasons that the death rate from prostate cancer is going down is that we're using hormone therapy early," he tells WebMD. "We haven't proved that early treatment improves overall survival yet, but I think we will."

Researchers are also looking at "intermittent therapy," starting and stopping hormone treatment for months at a time. The big advantage is that men could go off therapy temporarily and thus be free of the side effects. Early study results have been promising.

Hormone therapy for prostate cancer is also being tested in combination with other therapies, like radiation and chemotherapy. One recent study looked at men with locally advanced prostate cancer - cancer that has spread outside the prostate, but not yet into other parts of the body. Researchers found that adding just six months of hormone therapy to radiation allowed the men to live longer. Researchers are also studying the effects of hormone therapy earlier in treatment, for instance right after or even before surgery.

The Future of Hormone Therapy for Prostate Cancer

Some experts aren't sure how much further we can improve hormone therapy for prostate cancer.

"I'm not saying that we've reached the end of what we can do with hormonal therapy," Thrasher tells WebMD, "but there are only so many ways to shut down the hormonal effects. The cancer will still eventually escape."

Brooks argues that, overall, prostate cancer is only moderately affected by hormones. "You can only do so much manipulating the levels of hormones," says Brooks. "We have to find better ways to fight the basis of the cancer cells."

Thrasher and Brooks have more hope that the next breakthroughs will come with different approaches, like chemotherapy or vaccines.

But Holden remains optimistic about the future of hormone therapy for prostate cancer.

"Cancer cells eventually figure out how to survive, how to overcome a specific hormone therapy," he says. "But if we have enough types of drugs and can keep changing the hormone therapy, we might be able to keep the cancer cells in a state of confusion. We could change therapies before they have a chance to adapt."

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