Options In Hormone Therapy
Testosterone levels in the body can be reduced either surgically or with drugs. The surgical option is castration, achieved by removing the testicles during a bilateral orchiectomy. Once the only option, it has since been supplanted by drugs that lower testosterone levels to amounts achieved by surgery.
For men, normal testosterone levels range from 300 to 1,000 ng/dl. The FDA requires that any new drug used in hormone therapy for prostate cancer lower testosterone levels to 50 ng/dl or less. In my practice, I usually try to lower levels even further, to 20 ng/dl.
What To Know About Transgender Hormone Therapy Side Effects
For many transgender men and women, hormone replacement therapy is an important component of their transitioning process, allowing them to develop physical traits aligned with their gender identity. Taking this step to feel more comfortable in your body is a big decision, and there are many factors to consider as you determine if gender-affirming hormone replacement therapy is right for you.
Below is an overview of hormone replacement therapy medications and side effects to help you learn more about the process.
Prostate Cancer Hijacks Biorhythm Of Tumor Cell To Bypass Hormone Therapy
Hormone therapy can keep metastatic prostate cancer well under control, but sooner or later tumor cells become resistant to it. Unexpectedly, a possible solution has now emerged: drugs that are not designed to fight cancer at all, but which influence the day-and-night rhythm of a cell. Professor Wilbert Zwart is part of the international team of researchers, led by the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek institute, that is publishing a report on this discovery in the renowned journal Cancer Discovery today.
Prostate cancer is a type of cancer that grows under the influence of hormones, primarily testosterone. Patients with metastatic prostate cancer are therefore often treated with anti-hormonal therapy, which inhibits the growth-stimulating signal of testosterone and, therefore, tumor growth.
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What Is Hormone Herapy
To help you understand what hormone therapy is and how it may affect your prostate cancer, it is good for you to understand what hormones are and how they work in your body. Hormones control or manage your bodys activities. Hormones are made by glands in your body and are carried by your blood to all areas in your body. Glands are groups of cells in your body that make and release materials needed by your body.
Testosterone is the main male hormone in your body. It makes you grow hair on your face and body and have a mans body shape and controls your desire for sex. Testosterone also controls your prostate gland. Your testicles make most of the testosterone in your body. A small amount of testosterone is also made by your adrenal glands. Your adrenal glands are located on top of each kidney. Your adrenal glands also make other hormones.
Prostate cancer is hormone sensitive or hormone dependent. This means that the testosterone in your body helps your prostate cancer to grow. The goal of hormone therapy is to lower the amount of testosterone in your body to stop or slow the growth of your prostate cancer. You can lower the amount of testosterone in your body by taking medicines or having surgery.
Learn More About How Hormone Therapy Is Used To Target Cancer Cells
Hormone therapy may also be called endocrine therapy or hormone-blocking therapy.
Some cancers grow in response to particular hormones. These cancers are known as hormone-dependent cancers. They include some types of breast, uterine and prostate cancers. The aim of hormone therapy is the slow or stop the growth of hormone receptor positive cells.
What Is Intermittent Adt
Researchers have investigated whether a technique called intermittent androgen deprivation can delay the development of hormone resistance. With intermittent androgen deprivation, hormone therapy is given in cycles with breaks between drug administrations, rather than continuously. An additional potential benefit of this approach is that the temporary break from the side effects of hormone therapy may improve a mans quality of life.
Randomized clinical trials have shown similar overall survival with continuous ADT or intermittent ADT among men with metastatic or recurrent prostate cancer, with a reduction in some side effects for intermittent ADT .
What Type Of Hormone Therapy Works Best
Unfortunately, understanding the details of hormone therapy for prostate cancer can be difficult. Which drug or combination of drugs works best? In what order should they be tried? Research hasn’t answered these questions yet.
“Right now, there’s a level of art to figuring out which agents to use,” says Durado Brooks, MD, MPH, director of prostate cancer programs at the American Cancer Society. “We don’t have clear evidence yet.”
LHRH agonists remain the usual first treatment. But in some cases, doctors are trying anti-androgens first. Anti-androgens may be especially appealing to younger men who are still sexually active, since these drugs don’t completely shut down sex drive. When anti-androgens stop working — based on PSA tests — a person then might shift onto an LHRH agonist.
Other doctors prefer to begin therapy with a combination of two or even three drugs, especially for patients with symptoms or advanced disease, says Holden.
Researchers originally hoped that combined androgen blockade would significantly add to the benefits of LHRH agonists. However, the results, to date, have been mixed. Some studies have shown slightly longer survival with combined androgen blockade, but the results haven’t been as dramatic as many experts had hoped. Other studies have shown no benefit. A possible explanation may be the type of anti-androgen used, but further studies are needed to answer this question.
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Checking Your Hormone Therapy Is Working
You have regular blood tests to check the level of a protein called prostate specific antigen . PSA is a protein made by both normal and cancerous prostate cells. It is in the blood in small amounts in all men, unless you have had the prostate gland completely removed.
While the hormone therapy is working, the level of PSA should stay stable or may go down. But if prostate cancer starts to grow and develop, the level of PSA may go up. This is hormone resistant prostate cancer or castrate resistant prostate cancer. Then your doctor may need to change your treatment. They will discuss this with you
Types Of Hormone Therapy
The table at the right provides an overview of three commonly used types of hormone therapy. These and others are discussed below. While hormone therapy is commonly used, side effects of the treatment are reported as well. They range from erectile dysfunction, hot flashes, weight gain and loss of bone density.
Risk Of Other Health Problems
Evidence suggests that having hormone therapy might increase the chance of developing heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes. There is also some research that suggests having hormone therapy can increase your risk of getting blood clots and anaemia. But more research is needed to help us understand the links between these conditions.
Research shows that hormone therapy can cause:
- an increase in weight, particularly around the waist
- an increase in cholesterol levels
- changes in insulin.
Talk to your hospital doctor and GP about how often you should have general health checks. You may be weighed and have your blood pressure checked regularly. You may also have blood tests to check for diabetes and to measure your cholesterol levels. Your GP may suggest you have these checks about every six months. Or you can ask for them yourself at your GP surgery.
If you already have heart problems or diabetes, talk to your doctor before you start hormone therapy. They will work with you to manage these conditions.
While the risk of getting these conditions may be worrying, its important to remember that hormone therapy helps men to live longer by controlling the cancer.
What can help?
A healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes. This includes:
- eating a healthy diet
Prostate Cancer Epidemiology And Pathophysiology
Prostate cancer remains one of the most common malignancies, affecting one in eight men over the course of their lives . The prostate is an androgen-stimulated organ, requiring testosterone to optimally produce and secrete its alkaline contribution to seminal fluid . Cancer of the prostate may occur when the normal glandular tissue cells which comprise it become mutated, causing glandular proliferation and creating a nodule . This tumor may remain within or close to the surrounding prostatic tissue or metastasize to the bone or lymph nodes .
The vast majority of prostate cancer cases at diagnosis are identified as localized disease, usually exists without symptoms. In these cases, abnormal DRE and PSA may provide the first signs that cancer is present as well as opportunity for early intervention . Prostate cancer may present with nonspecific lower urinary tract symptoms such as nocturia, hematuria, dysuria and sexual dysfunction . The rate of metastatic disease at presentation ranges from 6.3%-8% . In addition, approximately 15% of patients with localized disease at presentation, and treated with curative intent, progress to metastatic disease . Patients with metastatic prostate cancer may present with bone pain, typically in their vertebrae, pelvic region, ribs, or proximal femur, hematuria, erectile dysfunction, weight loss, urinary retention or urinary incontinence and weakness amongst many others .
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The Future Of Hormone Therapy For Prostate Cancer
Some experts aren’t sure how much further we can improve hormone therapy for prostate cancer.
“I’m not saying that we’ve reached the end of what we can do with hormonal therapy,” Thrasher tells WebMD, “but there are only so many ways to shut down the hormonal effects. The cancer will still eventually escape.”
Brooks argues that, overall, prostate cancer is only moderately affected by hormones. “You can only do so much manipulating the levels of hormones,” says Brooks. “We have to find better ways to fight the basis of the cancer cells.”
Thrasher and Brooks have more hope that the next breakthroughs will come with different approaches, like chemotherapy or vaccines.
But Holden remains optimistic about the future of hormone therapy for prostate cancer.
“Cancer cells eventually figure out how to survive, how to overcome a specific hormone therapy,” he says. “But if we have enough types of drugs and can keep changing the hormone therapy, we might be able to keep the cancer cells in a state of confusion. We could change therapies before they have a chance to adapt.”
“It’s like an endless chess game,” he says. “You may not ever win, but you might be able to prolong the game indefinitely. I think that hormone therapy still has a lot of promise. We just need to develop better anti-androgens, and more varieties of them.”
Surgically Removing The Prostate Gland
A radical prostatectomy is the surgical removal of your prostate gland. This treatment is an option for curing prostate cancer that has not spread beyond the prostate or has not spread very far.
Like any operation, this surgery carries some risks.
A recent trial showed possible long-term side effects of radical prostatectomy may include an inability to get an erection and urinary incontinence.
Before having any treatment, 67% of men said they could get erections firm enough for intercourse.
When the men who had a radical prostatectomy were asked again after 6 months, this had decreased to 12%. When asked again after 6 years, it had slightly improved to 17%.
For urinary incontinence, 1% of men said they used absorbent pads before having any treatment.
When the men who had a radical prostatectomy were asked again after 6 months, this had increased to 46%. After 6 years, this had improved to 17%.
Out of the men who were actively monitored instead, 4% were using absorbent pads at 6 months and 8% after 6 years.
In extremely rare cases, problems arising after surgery can be fatal.
Its possible that prostate cancer can come back again after treatment. Your doctor should be able to explain the risk of your cancer coming back after treatment, based on things like your PSA level and the stage of your cancer.
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How Hormone Therapy Is Used Against Cancer
Hormone therapy is used for two main reasons.
- Treat cancer. Hormone therapy can stop or slow cancer’s growth and reduce the chance it will return.
- Ease cancer symptoms. Hormone therapy may be used to reduce or prevent symptoms in men with prostate cancer who are not able to have surgery or radiation therapy.
Who Is Feminizing Hormone Therapy For
Feminizing hormone therapy is an option for transwomen people who were assigned male at birth but identify as women. This therapy is a common treatment for gender dysphoria .
Nonbinary or intersex people may also choose to undergo feminizing hormone therapy. Nonbinary people have gender identities that dont fit inside traditional male or female categories. Intersex people are born with reproductive or sexual characteristics that dont fit traditional perceptions of male and female bodies. They may have conditions affecting their gonads, external genitals or chromosome patterns.
Stated simply, feminizing hormone therapy is for anyone who feels that theres a mismatch between their external appearance and their authentic sense of gender and self.
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Neoadjuvant And Adjuvant Hormone Therapy For Early
Hormone therapy is sometimes given in conjunction with a definitive prostate cancer treatment, such as radiation therapy, in order to improve health outcomes. When hormone therapy is given in advance of a primary treatment, its known as neoadjuvant therapy when its given during or after a primary treatment, its known as adjuvant therapy.
Hormonal Therapy For Endometrial Cancer
Cancer of the uterus or its lining, the endometrium, may respond to hormone therapy with progestins. Other types of hormone therapy for endometrial cancer include:
- Aromatase inhibitors
When and why theyre used: Hormone therapy is typically reserved for advanced uterine or endometrial cancer, or for cancer that has returned after treatment. Its often combined with chemotherapy.
Risks: Side effects are similar to those seen with hormone treatment for other types of cancer.
Expert cancer care
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What Is Advanced Prostate Cancer
When prostate cancer spreads beyond the prostate or returns after treatment, it is often called advanced prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is often grouped into four stages.
- Stages I & II: The tumor has not spread beyond the prostate. This is often called early stage or localized prostate cancer.
- Stage III: Cancer has spread outside the prostate, but only to nearby tissues. This is often called locally advanced prostate cancer.
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread outside the prostate to other parts such as the lymph nodes, bones, liver or lungs. This stage is often called advanced prostate cancer.
When an early stage prostate cancer is found, it may be treated or placed on surveillance . If prostate cancer spreads beyond the prostate or returns after treatment, it is often called advanced prostate cancer. Stage IV prostate cancer is not curable, but there are many ways to control it. Treatment can stop advanced prostate cancer from growing and causing symptoms.
There are several types of advanced prostate cancer, including:
If your Prostate Specific Antigen level has risen after the first treatment but you have no other signs of cancer, you have biochemical recurrence.
Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer
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What Are The Side Effects Of Hormone Therapy For Prostate Cancer
Because androgens affect many other organs besides the prostate, ADT can have a wide range of side effects , including:
- loss of interest in sex
Studer UE, Whelan P, Albrecht W, et al. Immediate or deferred androgen deprivation for patients with prostate cancer not suitable for local treatment with curative intent: European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer Trial 30891. Journal of Clinical Oncology 2006 24:18681876.
Zelefsky MJ, Eastham JA, Sartor AO. Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer. In: Vincent T. DeVita J, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology, 9e. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2011.
Smith MR, Saad F, Chowdhury S, et al. Apalutamide and overall survival in prostate cancer. European Urology 2021 79:150158.
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How Will I Know That My Hormone Therapy Is Working
Doctors cannot predict how long hormone therapy will be effective in suppressing the growth of any individual mans prostate cancer. Therefore, men who take hormone therapy for more than a few months are regularly tested to determine the level of PSA in their blood. An increase in PSA level may indicate that a mans cancer has started growing again. A PSA level that continues to increase while hormone therapy is successfully keeping androgen levels extremely low is an indicator that a mans prostate cancer has become resistant to the hormone therapy that is currently being used.
How Might Hormone Therapy Make Me Feel
Hormone therapy itself can affect your mood. You may find that you feel more emotional than usual or just different to how you felt before. Some men find that they cry a lot. You may also get mood swings, such as getting tearful and then angry. Just knowing that these feelings are caused by hormone therapy can help.
Everyones different some men are surprised by the side effects and how upsetting they find them. Others have fewer symptoms or are not as worried by them.
Some of the other side effects of hormone therapy are hard to come to terms with. Physical changes, such as putting on weight, or changes to your sex life, might make you feel very different about yourself. Some men say they feel less masculine because of their diagnosis and treatment.
If youre starting hormone therapy very soon after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, you might still feel upset, shocked, frightened or angry about having cancer. These feelings are normal, and its okay to feel this way.
Things in your day-to-day life can change because of the hormone therapy. Your relationships with your partner, family and friends might change. Or you might be too tired to do some of the things you used to do.
Some men experience low moods, anxiety or depression. This could be directly caused by the hormone therapy itself, or because youve been diagnosed with prostate cancer. It could also be due to the impact that treatment is having on you and your family.
What can help?
Talking about it
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