Hormones are chemicals created by glands, such as the ovaries and testicles. Hormones can make some types of cancer cells grow, such as seen in breast cancer and prostate cancer. Although in some cases, hormones can destroy cancer cells, slow the growth of cancer cells, or keep them from growing altogether. Hormone therapy as a cancer treatment uses drugs that work to reduce the production, or block the effect, of natural hormones in your body.
How hormonal treatment works:
In breast cancer, various breast cancer tumors need hormones to grow. These tumors are said to have receptors for the hormones estrogen and/or progesterone, and are also called hormone receptor positive. Hormone therapy may be considered for women whose breast cancers test positive for estrogen and progesterone receptors.
Estrogen, the female hormone can increase the growth of breast cancer cells in some women. Tamoxifen (Nolvadex®) is a medication used in hormone therapy to treat breast cancer. Hormonal treatments can act in one of two ways:
- Blocking the ability of estrogen to reach cancer cells by binding to the receptor and preventing estrogen from attaching to it.
- Reducing the amount of estrogen in your body, either by inhibiting the process by which estrogen is made or by stopping the production of estrogen by the ovaries.
With prostate cancer, there may be a selection of medications used in hormone therapy. Male hormones, such as testosterone, fuel prostate cancer to grow. Hormone therapy is administered to aid in stopping hormone production and blocking the activity of the male hormones. Hormone therapy can cause a tumor to shrink and the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels to decrease. For prostate cancer, either the surgical removal of the testes or hormone drug therapy can improve the prostate cancer.
Hormonal treatment is commonly used as adjuvant therapy, which means it is used immediately after surgery and/or radiation. Hormonal treatment does not take the place of surgery and/or radiation for early breast cancer, it is used before or after these initial treatments. Some hormonal treatments can also be used as neoadjuvant therapy, which means they are used before surgery and/or radiation. Neoadjuvant therapy may reduce the size of the tumor so it is easier to remove during surgery or easier to treat with radiation.
It’s important to note that hormonal treatment for breast cancer is NOT the same as hormone replacement therapy (also called HRT), which supplies estrogen to women to help ease the symptoms of menopause. HRT should generally not be administered to women who have had breast cancer because the estrogen and/or progesterone could increase the risk of recurrence.
Lab tests of your cancer biopsy will show our medical team at Choice Cancer Care whether your breast cancer or prostate cancer is hormone receptor positive. Our cancer doctors and oncologists will work with you to determine the best cancer treatment plan.