Hormone treatment (also called androgen deprivation therapy or androgen suppression therapy) removes, blocks, or adds hormones to treat prostate cancer. Hormones are chemical substances produced by glands in the body that enter the bloodstream and affect other tissues.
Why Is Hormone Treatment Used for Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer grows when exposed to the male hormone testosterone and its related hormones, called androgens. Hormone treatment for prostate cancer is used to stop the production of testosterone and all androgens either temporarily or permanently.
Hormone treatments can be given in many ways such as by injection or as pills. Drugs can stop the testicles from producing testosterone and protect cells from any other androgens that remain in the body. Hormone treatment may include:
- The use of various hormones such as estrogen to counter the effects of testosterone
- The use of drugs that lower testosterone levels or block the activity of male hormones in the body, including antiandrogen agents, luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) analogs, or agonists. Newer agents may also block the production of androgens by the adrenal glands.
- The use of combined hormone therapy that decreases testosterone production from the testicles, as well as from glands located on the kidneys, called adrenal glands
Hormone treatment may also include surgical removal of the testicles (called orchiectomy) where testosterone is produced. This prevents male hormones from further stimulating the growth of the prostate cancer.
When Is Hormone Treatment Used for Prostate Cancer?
Hormone treatment is primarily used if prostate cancer has spread outside the prostate. It does not cure cancer. The purpose of hormone therapy is to delay the progression of the cancer and increase survival while maximizing quality of life.
If a patient doesn't respond to initial hormone treatment, a doctor may try other hormonal methods before recommending chemotherapy.
Who Is a Candidate for Hormone Treatment?
Hormone treatment can be used in men with various degrees of prostate cancer. For example, it is often used in men after surgery for better results, as well as in men who don't want to have any other type of treatment. Factors to consider are quality of life, cost of the treatment, and how effective and safe hormone treatment may be in a particular case.