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Hormone Therapy for Prostate Cancer

Since 81 percent of the prostate cancers diagnosed at Beaumont Cancer Institute are confined to the prostate, most are treated with surgery or radiotherapy rather than hormone therapy. However, the Medical Oncology Department offers hormone therapy for prostate cancer when warranted. Prostate cancer hormone therapy reduces testosterone levels so that prostate tumors shrink. Most studies show that hormone therapy for prostate cancer works best when it is started early.

What is hormone therapy?

Produced mainly in the testicles, the male hormone testosterone causes prostate cancer cells to grow. Reducing testosterone levels can make the prostate cancer shrink and become less active.

The goal of hormone therapy is to lower the level of male hormones in the body, particularly testosterone. Hormone therapy does not cure the cancer and is often used to treat persons whose cancer has spread or recurred after treatment. Most studies show that hormone therapy works better if it is started early.

What are the different types of hormone therapy?

There are several types of hormone therapy, including the following:

  • Orchiectomy: The surgical removal of the testicles to prevent the male hormones that stimulate growth of the prostate cancer from being produced.
  • LHRH (luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone) analogs: Drugs that decrease the amount of testosterone produced in a man’s body by interfering with the normal chemical signals sent from the pituitary gland in the brain to the testicles. Drugs include Lupron®, Viadur®, Eligard®, Zoladex®, and Trelstar TM.
  • Anti-androgens: Substances that block the body’s ability to use testosterone, because even after orchiectomy or LHRH-analog treatment, a small amount of testosterone may still be produced in the body. Other hormonal drugs may be used for periods of time during treatment. Drugs include Eulexin®, Casodex®, and Nilandron TM.
  • LHRH antagonist (Plenaxis): Used on a very limited basis due to serious allergic reactions by some persons. Given by injection.

What are side effects of hormone therapy?

As each person’s individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his/her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team any/all possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.

Possible side effects of hormone therapy for prostate cancer may include the following:

  • hot flashes
  • a degree of impotence (inability to achieve or maintain an erection)
  • diminished libido (desire for sex)
  • enlargement of the breasts

What is the duration of hormone therapy?

The duration of hormone therapy varies, but usually lasts a period of a few months, depending on the individual situation. Research presented at the 2000 American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting suggests that long-term hormone therapy (an additional two years) for those men who have locally advanced prostate cancer may control the disease better than short-term hormone therapy. Always consult your physician for more information regarding hormone therapy treatment.