Hormonal Therapy For Aggressive Prostate Cancer: How Long Is Enough
- By Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Diseases
Men weighing treatment options for intermediate- or high-risk cancer that is still localized to the prostate can face a tricky question. A standard approach in these cases is to give radiation to the prostate along with drugs that block testosterone, a hormone that makes the cancer cells grow faster. For how long should this hormone therapy last? Thats not entirely clear. The drugs have side effects, such as fatigue, impotence, and a loss of muscle mass. But radiation doesnt control prostate cancer effectively without them. Doctors therefore aim to give hormone therapy only for as long as it takes to help their patients, without causing any undue harm.
Now, newly published results from a phase 3 clinical trial are providing some needed guidance.
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.
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.
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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.
Treatment And Research Considerations
Many unanswered questions exist regarding the benefit of NADT. Current data are insufficient to support the routine recommendation of NADT. Until this ambiguity is clarified, the utility of NADT prior to RP will remain controversial.
In patients with clinically localized prostate cancer, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network strongly discourages the use of NADT before RP outside of a clinical trial. However, the NCCN notes that androgen deprivation therapy before, during, and/or after radiation prolongs survival in selected patients who are receiving radiation therapy only.
As with any therapy, the ultimate benefit of NADT in prostate cancer will be determined only through properly designed trials with long-term follow-up. Also, hormone therapy is associated with significant side effects, such as hot flushes and gynecomastia, as well as financial costs.
The decision to use hormone therapy should, therefore, be taken at a local level, between the patient, clinician, and policy maker, taking into account the clinical benefits, toxicity, and cost. More research is needed to guide the choice, the duration, and the schedule of hormone deprivation therapy and the impact of long-term hormone therapy with regard to toxicity and the patients quality of life.
There is a particularly strong need for neoadjuvant chemotherapy trials that will allow more rapid and less costly screening of new drugs and drug regimens. Research to date has identified some possible candidates.
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How Hormone Therapy Is Given
Hormone therapy may be given in many ways. Some common ways include:
- Oral. Hormone therapy comes in pills that you swallow.
- Injection. The hormone therapy is given by a shot in a muscle in your arm, thigh, or hip, or right under the skin in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or belly.
- Surgery. You may have surgery to remove organs that produce hormones. In women, the ovaries are removed. In men, the testicles are removed.
What Kinds Of Medical Information Should I Keep
It is important for you to keep a copy of your prostate cancer treatment records. You may not always see the same doctor for your follow-up care, so having this information to share with another doctor can be very helpful. The following is a list of medical information you may want to keep.
Remember, you have the right to copies of all your medical paperwork and the actual slides, x-rays and any other information about your health care and treatment. A good idea would be to create two copies of your medical information and keep them in folders. Keep one folder at home and take the other one with you to your doctors appointments. Whenever you see a new doctor, it is important for you to let them know about your prostate cancer and any treatment that you have had.
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When Is Hormone Therapy Used For Prostate Cancer
On its own, hormone therapy can be a good way to control the growth of your prostate cancer. It can also be used with another prostate cancer treatment to help it work better. You should keep in mind that the following things will affect when you have hormone therapy and if you have hormone therapy along with another type of prostate cancer treatment:
Your stage, grade, and Gleason score are determined by a pathologist. A pathologist is a specially trained physician who reviews biopsy results in order to find changes in your body caused by cancer. When you had your prostate biopsy, the pathologist looked at the tissue samples taken from your prostate gland and prepared your biopsy report. The report tells you and your doctor the following information:
This information is used to help your doctor chose the most effective type of hormone therapy for you. The types of hormone therapy include:
Neoadjuvant hormone therapy
If you have early stage prostate cancer, you and your doctor may decide on a course of hormone therapy prior to the start of your main prostate cancer treatment. This is called neoadjuvant or pre-therapy. This type of hormone therapy is used to help shrink your prostate cancer tumor. This helps make your main treatment more effective. This is very common with men who get radiation therapy.
Adjuvant hormone therapy
Adjuvant therapy is given to you at the same time you have your main prostate cancer treatment.
Salvage hormone therapy
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How Might I Feel During Hormone Therapy
Nearly all men being treated for prostate cancer say that they feel emotionally upset at different times during their hormone therapy. It’s not unusual to feel anxious, depressed, afraid, angry, frustrated, alone, or helpless. Hormone therapy may affect your emotions because it lowers the amount of testosterone in your body.
Some men find it helps to learn about their disease and treatment because it makes them less afraid of their treatment. Find out as much as you want to know. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Your emotional health is as important as your physical health.
Talking with an understanding friend, relative, minister or another patient may be helpful. Your doctors office may be able to give you a list of local prostate cancer support groups. There will be men in the support groups who have had hormone therapy. You may also contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or the National Cancer Institutes Cancer Information Line at 1-800-422-6237 to find out about cancer resources in your local community.
Many people don’t understand prostate cancer or its treatment. They may stay away from you because they’re not sure what to say or how to help. Try to be open when you talk to other people about your illness, treatment, needs, and feelings. People will often be willing to lend their support. If you get tired easily, limit your activities and do only the things that mean the most to you.
Are There Side Effects With Hormone Therapy
Yes, there are side effects or unwanted changes in your body caused by hormone therapy. Side effects are different from person to person, and may be different from one treatment to the next. Some people have no or very mild side effects. The good news is that there are ways to deal with most of the side effects. The side effects that you have depend on:
The side effects you have from hormone therapy may be acute or chronic. Acute side effects are sometimes called “early side effects.” These types of side effects happen soon after the treatment begins and usually go away after you finish your hormone therapy. Other side effects are called chronic side effects or “late side effects.” These side effects may happen several months after you start hormone therapy.
In order to reduce your chance of having side effects, your doctor may give you intermittent hormone therapy. If you are on intermittent hormone therapy, your doctor and health care team will carefully watch your PSA level. As it begins to go up, you are given hormone therapy medicine to lower your PSA. Another way for you to get intermittent hormone therapy is to take a medicine for a set period of time and then stop for a set period of time. For example, you may take a medicine for six months, stop for six months, and then start again for six months.
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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.
Side Effects Of Androgen Deprivation Therapy
Since androgen deprivation treatment with LHRH analogues can also increase the risk of metabolic syndrome or diabetes mellitus, regular control of laboratory variables is required . Because of the two risks mentioned, the US Food and Drug Administration published a warning in 2010. This wasamong othersbased on a recommendation of the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Urological Association, and the support of the American Society for Radiation Oncology .
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Drugs That Lower Androgen Levels
The most common treatment is to take drugs that lower the amount of androgens made by the testicles. They are called luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone analogs and anti-androgens . These drugs lower androgen levels just as well as surgery does. This type of treatment is sometimes called “chemical castration.”
Men who receive androgen deprivation therapy should have follow-up exams with the doctor prescribing the drugs:
- Within 3 to 6 months after starting therapy
- At least once a year, to monitor blood pressure and perform blood sugar and cholesterol tests
- To get PSA blood tests to monitor how well the therapy is working
LH-RH analogs are given as a shot anywhere from once a month to every 6 months. These drugs include:
LH-RH antagonists are another class of treatments, including degarelix and relugolix . They reduce androgen levels more quickly and have fewer side effects. LH-RH antagonists are used in men with advanced cancer.
Some doctors recommend stopping and restarting treatment . This approach appears to help reduce hormone therapy side effects. However, it is not clear if intermittent therapy works as well as continuous therapy. Some studies indicate that continuous therapy is more effective or that intermittent therapy should only be used for select types of prostate cancer.
How Are Hormone Therapy Medicines Used
Hormone therapy medicines may be used alone, with another type of hormone therapy, or with another type of prostate cancer treatment.
Monotherapy is when only one type of hormone therapy medicine is used to lower the amount of testosterone in your body. Monotherapy can be effective in shrinking a prostate cancer tumor, slowing the spread of your prostate cancer, and relieving pain caused by your prostate cancer. Monotherapy may be used with neoadjuvant therapy or adjuvant therapy. Please read When is Hormone Therapy Used for Prostate Cancer? to learn more about neoadjuvant and adjuvant therapy.
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Online Support Groups For Prostate Cancer
- Us TOO. This organization has more than 200 support groups in the United States and abroad.
- Prostate Cancer Research Institute. This website allows you to search for support groups by state.
- Cancer Care. This site offers 15-week online support groups for people diagnosed with prostate cancer. Co-sponsored by the National Alliance of State Prostate Cancer Coalitions.
- Male Care. This organization offers online support groups for people with prostate cancer and their partners or caregivers.
- Imerman Angels. This support community offers one-on-one support with a mentor.
Your Cancer Care Team
People with cancer should be cared for by a multidisciplinary team . This is a team of specialists who work together to provide the best care and treatment.
The team often consists of specialist cancer surgeons, oncologists , radiologists, pathologists, radiographers and specialist nurses.
Other members may include physiotherapists, dietitians and occupational therapists. You may also have access to clinical psychology support.
When deciding what treatment is best for you, your doctors will consider:
- the type and size of the cancer
- what grade it is
- whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body
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What Side Effects May I Have After I Start Hormone Therapy
The side effects that you may have after you start hormone therapy include: erectile dysfunction or impotence , lower sexual desire , hot flashes, fatigue , weight gain, breast enlargement, osteoporosis, anemia, memory loss, and cardiovascular problems. The following side effects can happen as soon as you start your treatment.
Difficulty getting or keeping an erection is a common side effect of hormone therapy for prostate cancer. This is also called impotence. Hormone therapy lowers the amount of testosterone in your body or stops your body from making testosterone.
Lower sex drive
Hot flashes and sweating
Breast tenderness or growth
Some men may find that their chest becomes sore and that their breasts get a little bit swollen. This is called gynecomastia . There are medicines and treatments that you doctor or health care team can give you to help with this side effect.
The drop in your testosterone level may make you feel very tired. You may feel tired all the time or you may get tired more easily when you do your daily activities. This is known as fatigue or tiredness. There are things you can do to help deal with this treatment side effect.
Tumor flare pain
The following side effects may happen if you take hormone treatment for a long period of time. These are:
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