Hormones are key to a lot of the work your body does. These natural chemicals affect everything from menopause to metabolism to your mood.
When a tumor is hormone-sensitive, its cells have proteins on their surfaces called receptors. They link to hormones like a lock and key. When the hormone “key” opens the “lock” of the receptor, the cancer cell grows and spreads.
Types of Hormone-Sensitive Cancer
Not all cancers are fueled by hormones. But a few types can be, such as:
- Breast cancer. Some types need estrogen and progesterone to grow.
- Ovarian cancer. It can be affected by estrogen.
- Uterine or endometrial cancer. Estrogen and progesterone can fuel some types.
- Prostate cancer. Testosterone and similar hormones can help it grow and spread.
It’s important to know whether or not your cancer is hormone-sensitive. That affects how your doctor will treat it.
How Do I Know If My Cancer Is Hormone-Sensitive?
Your doctor can find out by testing your cancer’s cells. They’ll take a small piece of your tumor, called a biopsy. It goes to a lab for testing. The lab technician will use a microscope to look at the cells in the sample. If they see a lot of receptors on them, that means your tumor is hormone-sensitive.
Treatment for Hormone-Sensitive Cancers
Once your doctor knows that you have this type of cancer, she may recommend treatment with hormone therapy. There are a few types, and they work in different ways:
- Some treatments can block the receptors on your cancer cells. That prevents the cancer from using the hormones.
- Surgery can take out the part of your body that makes the hormone that’s fueling your tumor. For example, taking out a woman’s ovaries before menopause takes away her main source of estrogen.
- You can take medicine to stop your body from making certain hormones.
You may get hormone therapy along with other cancer treatments. The type you need depends on:
- The kind of cancer you have
- If it has spread
- How far it has spread
- For women, whether you’ve been through menopause
Besides treatment, doctors use hormone therapy for cancer in a few other ways:
- It can help keep you from getting cancer. Some women with higher chances for breast cancer might choose to use hormone therapy to lower their odds.
- It can control the growth and spread of cancer.
- It can help keep the disease from coming back after treatment.