Characteristics of Hormonal Therapy

A person diagnosed with cancer who has positive hormone receptors is a candidate for hormonal therapy. How does this treatment work? What are its side effects? Learn more in this article!
Characteristics of Hormonal Therapy

Last update: 04 April, 2021

It’s important to talk about cancer in order to discuss hormonal therapy. This is because this kind of disease encompasses a group of complex conditions. Thus, every type of cancer has its own characteristics, evolution, and treatment.

Depending on the type, cancer cells will respond differently to hormonal stimuli produced by the body. These hormones stimulate cancer growth and so they proliferate. For this reason, it’s necessary to block the stimulation of cancer cells using treatments like hormone therapy.

What’s hormonal therapy?

This is a type of systemic cancer treatment. Systemic treatments are those that travel through the bloodstream upon administration. They reaching and impact all cells in the body and not just the cancer cells.

The main characteristic of hormone therapy is it slows down or blocks the action of certain hormones, slowing or stopping the growth and division of malignant cells.

A woman with a mask.

The applications of hormonal therapy

People with cancer undergo many tests to determine what type they have. A person diagnosed with any type of cancer that has positive hormone receptors is a good candidate for hormonal therapy. The most common ones with positive hormone receptors are breast and prostate cancer.

Hormone therapy and breast cancer

When we talk specifically about hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, we’re talking about a type that responds to the stimulation of a hormone called estrogen.

Estrogen hormone receptor-positive breast cancer makes up 80% of the world’s breast cancer cases.

Estrogen is a hormone produced naturally by the female ovaries, adrenal gland, and fatty tissue. This hormone is responsible for the development of a woman’s secondary physical characteristics and the onset of the menstrual period.

Hormone therapy in breast cancer aims to reduce the size of a tumor, reducing the risk of cancer occurrence after cure and helping reduce the rate of growth of advanced-stage breast cancer.

The drugs used in hormone therapy for breast cancer work through the following mechanisms:

  • Firstly, decreasing the amount of estrogen in the body
  • Secondly, blocking the action of estrogen on the cells

This treatment is also known as anti-estrogen therapy since the goal of hormone therapy in breast cancer is acting on estrogen.

A woman with a pink ribbon.

Hormonal therapy and prostate cancer

Prostate cancer responds to the stimulation of other hormones — androgens. Furthermore, these hormones, like estrogen in women, play an important role in the development of a man’s secondary sexual characteristics.

Unlike breast cancer, the determination of hormone surface receptors isn’t necessary for prostate cancer. Therefore, most prostate tumors have androgen hormone receptors.

Hormone therapy in prostate cancer aims to reduce testosterone production. This either happens by chemical or surgical castration, or by blocking the androgen receptor of those cases with tumor cells.

Side effects of hormonal therapy

Overall, people who undergo hormone therapy may experience side effects related to the decrease or lack of a particular hormone.

For instance, women with breast cancer who receive hormone therapy can expect:

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Mood swings
  • Osteoporosis

Similarly, men might experience:

  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Sexual impotence
  • Osteoporosis
  • Decrease in muscle mass and lack of physical strength
  • Increased blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Weight gain
  • Mood changes
  • Tiredness
  • Gynecomastia (breast growth)

Conclusion

Finally, it’s important to remember that hormone therapy is a therapeutic option frequently used against breast and prostate cancer. This is because they’re forms of the disease characterized by having positive hormone receptors. Thus, the physician or oncologist must evaluate its advantages and disadvantages.

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