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.
Table : Survival Benefits Of Early Treatment
An analysis of 98 men with prostate cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes, who were randomly assigned to receive immediate hormone therapy or to forgo it until the disease spread further to bones or lungs, found that early treatment saved lives.
Deaths from prostate cancer 21 Source: Lancet Oncology 2006 7:4729. PMID: 16750497.
Other studies have shown that starting hormone therapy early on increases survival times, delays cancer progression, and results in better quality of life. However, in a review of four studies involving 2,167 men with metastatic prostate cancer, the Cochrane Collaboration concluded that early hormone therapy had offered only a small overall survival advantage over deferred treatment, and cautioned that more research on the issue needs to be done.
Although debate on this issue continues, in most cases I advise my patients with metastatic disease to begin hormone treatment early on. This is particularly important for someone with spine metastases, because a bone fracture or extension of the cancer into the spinal cord area could lead to impaired mobility and even paralysis. Fortunately, this is a rare event.
Will Side Effects Limit What I Can Do
What you are able to do will depend on which side effects you have and how bad they are. Many men are able to work, cook meals, and enjoy their usual daily activities when they have hormone therapy for their prostate cancer. Other men find that they need more rest than before they started hormone therapy so they cant do as much. You should try to keep doing the things you enjoy as long as you don’t get too tired.
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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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When Is Hormone Therapy Used
Hormone therapy may be used:
- If the cancer has spread too far to be cured by surgery or radiation, or if you cant have these treatments for some other reason
- If the cancer remains or comes back after treatment with surgery or radiation therapy
- Along with radiation therapy as the initial treatment, if you are at higher risk of the cancer coming back after treatment
- Before radiation to try to shrink the cancer to make treatment more effective
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Heres What The Results Showed
After a median follow-up of just over 10 years, 9.7% of men who were treated with radiation and leuporelin for 18 months had died from prostate cancer, compared to 13.3% of the men treated with radiation and leuporelin for six months. Adding zoledronic acid made no difference in either case.
The authors concluded that hormonal therapy is more effective at preventing prostate cancer death when its given for 18 months rather than six. And similar benefits were noted for other endpoints as well. For instance, prostate tumors were less likely to metastasize, or spread, among men in the longer duration treatment group, and it took longer for their cancers to become resistant to hormone therapy if it was reinitiated later.
In earlier clinical research, scientists discovered that hormonal therapy given for three years protects against prostate cancer death more effectively than a six-month treatment regimen. But three years of hormone therapy isnt easily tolerated, and evidence so far shows that 10-year survival rates after either 18 months or three years of hormonal therapy are similar, the authors of the new study claim.
About the Author
Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Diseases
How Testosterone Helps Prostate Cancer Grow
Testosterone travels through the bloodstream and eventually reaches prostate cancer cells, where it helps the cancer grow. Up to a point, the more testosterone the cancer cells have, the more the cancer can grow and eventually spread to other parts of the body. Hormone therapy is designed to prevent testosterone from fueling the growth of these cancer cells.
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How Long Do You Take Hormonal Therapy For
For early prostate cancer this depends on the prostate cancer risk group. If the cancer is:
- intermediate-risk you may have hormonal therapy for a few months after radiotherapy
- high-risk you may be advised to have hormonal therapy for up to 2 to 3 years after radiotherapy.
For locally advanced prostate cancer you usually have hormonal therapy for 2 to 3 years after radiotherapy.
Hormone Treatment Fights Prostate Cancer
Hormone therapy for prostate cancer has come a long way in the past few decades. Not so long ago, the only hormonal treatment for this disease was drastic: an orchiectomy, the surgical removal of the testicles.
Now we have a number of medications — available as pills, injections, and implants — that can give men the benefits of decreasing male hormone levels without irreversible surgery.
“I think hormonal therapy has done wonders for men with prostate cancer,” Stuart Holden, MD, Medical Director of the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Hormone therapy for prostate cancer does have limitations. Right now, it’s usually used only in men whose cancer has recurred or spread elsewhere in the body.
But even in cases where removing or killing the cancer isn’t possible, hormone therapy can help slow down cancer growth. Though it isn’t a cure, hormone therapy for prostate cancer can help men with prostate cancer feel better and add years to their lives.
On average, hormone therapy can stop the advance of cancer for two to three years. However, it varies from case to case. Some men do well on hormone therapy for much longer.
Secondary Treatment Following Relapse
Hormone therapy may also be used as a secondary or salvage treatment when PSA levels rise following initial prostate cancer treatment, indicating the cancer has returned. This situation is known as biochemical recurrence. The salient points to keep in mind are that hormone therapy is most often used as a salvage treatment when PSA doubling time is less than six months, indicating that the cancer is aggressive or may have already metastasized.
How To Tell If Hormone Therapy Is Working
If you are taking hormone therapy for prostate cancer, you will have regular PSA tests. If hormone therapy is working, your PSA levels will stay the same or may even go down. But, if your PSA levels go up, this may be a sign that the treatment is no longer working. If this happens, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you.
If you are taking hormone therapy for breast cancer, you will have regular checkups. Checkups usually include an exam of the neck, underarm, chest, and breast areas. You will have regular mammograms, though you probably wont need a mammogram of a reconstructed breast. Your doctor may also order other imaging procedures or lab tests.
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How Are Treatments Administered
GnRH agonists are either injected or placed as small implants under the skin. Anti-androgens are taken as a pill once per day. Degarelix is given as an injection. A chemotherapy drug called docetaxel is sometimes used in combination with these hormone therapies.
Zytiga is taken by mouth once per day in combination with a steroid called prednisone.
Surgery to remove the testicles can be done as an outpatient procedure. You should be able to go home a few hours after an orchiectomy.
Risk Of Heart Problems
Hormone therapy for prostate cancer might increase the risk of heart problems if you have certain medical conditions.
This may be because some of the side effects of hormone therapy, such as weight gain, can make heart disease worse.
Gynecomastia in Patients with Prostate Cancer: A Systematic Review
A Fagerlund and others
Treatment Of Osteoporosis in Men
UpToDate, Accessed August 2019
Cardiovascular effects of hormone therapy for prostate cancer
J Lester and D Mason,
Drug, Healthcare and Patient Safety, 2015. Volume 7
Cognitive Effects of Androgen Deprivation Therapy in Men With Advanced Prostate Cancer
B Gunlusoy and others
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Treatment To Lower Androgen Levels From Other Parts Of The Body
LHRH agonists and antagonists can stop the testicles from making androgens, but cells in other parts of the body, such as the adrenal glands, and prostate cancer cells themselves, can still make male hormones, which can fuel cancer growth. Some drugs can block the formation of androgens made by these cells.
Abiraterone blocks an enzyme called CYP17, which helps stop these cells from making androgens.
Abiraterone can be used in men with advanced prostate cancer that is either:
This drug is taken as pills every day. It doesnt stop the testicles from making testosterone, so men who havent had an orchiectomy need to continue treatment with an LHRH agonist or antagonist. Because abiraterone also lowers the level of some other hormones in the body, prednisone needs to be taken during treatment as well to avoid certain side effects.
Ketoconazole , first used for treating fungal infections, also blocks production of androgens made in the adrenal glands, much like abiraterone. It’s most often used to treat men just diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer who have a lot of cancer in the body, as it offers a quick way to lower testosterone levels. It can also be tried if other forms of hormone therapy are no longer working.
Ketoconazole also can block the production of cortisol, an important steroid hormone in the body, so men treated with this drug often need to take a corticosteroid .
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 .
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Therapies That Interfere With Androgen Function
Taken daily as pills, antiandrogens bind to the androgen receptor proteins in the prostate cells, preventing the androgens from functioning. In addition to preventing a flare reaction, antiandrogens may be added to your treatment plan if an orchiectomy, LHRH agonist or LHRH antagonist is no longer working by itself. Commonly prescribed antiandrogens include flutamide and bicalutamide .
Enzalutamide is a newer type of antiandrogen that blocks the signal that the receptor normally sends to the cells control center to trigger growth and division. This antiandrogen may be used to treat castration-resistant prostate cancer.
The Side Effects Of Anti
Most men tolerate anti-androgen therapy well.
- Bone density loss
- Irritability or mood swings
- Enlargement of breasts
- Starting patients on Vitamin D and calcium, providing consultation with our endocrinology team about preserving bone health, and getting baseline bone density scans when indicated
- Encouraging men to commit to active physical therapy and aerobic exercise to limit weight gain, preserve muscle composition, and even retain urinary function and control it better
- Recommending medications to help with hot flashes and mood changes that can arise during hormone 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.
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Hormone Therapy With Radiation
Hormone therapy is often given together with radiation therapy for localized disease .
Hormone therapy usually consists of a shot that lowers your testosterone, given every 1 to 6 months, depending on the formulation. Sometimes, it is prescribed as a daily pill that blocks testosterone from reaching the cancer cells. Clinical trials show a benefit in patients who receive hormonal treatment in combination with external beam radiation. Hormone therapy has been shown to improve cure rates of prostate cancer for men receiving radiation therapy and is part of the standard of care for men with certain types of intermediate-risk prostate cancer and nearly all high-risk prostate cancer. It is often given for intermediate-risk cancer for 4 to 6 months , and for 2 to 3 years in men with high-risk localized prostate cancer, although some doctors may recommend as little as 18 months of hormone therapy.
Hormone therapy should not be given to men with low-risk prostate cancer and is not a standalone treatment for localized prostate cancer in any risk category.
Want more information about a prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment options? Download or order a print copy of the Prostate Cancer Patient Guide.
What The Researchers Did
Dr. Crawfords team reviewed clinical data from nearly 23,000 men who were given ADT injections between 2007 and 2016. Each mans treatment varied by how their ADT was formulated. Some types of ADT are given once a month, and others are given at three-, four-, or six-month intervals. The researchers wanted to know how many men were late on their ADT treatments, and how that would affect the amounts of testosterone in their blood.
During this research, the investigators defined month in two ways: either as one lasting 28 days, which is how months were defined during the clinical trials that set dosing schedules for ADT, or as a calendar month lasting 31 days. ADT was deemed late if it was given after day 28 by the first definition or after day 32 by the second definition.
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The Initial Causes Hormone Therapy Drug Names For Prostate Cancer
One of the first symptoms of prostate issues is pain or tenderness in the groin or lower back. This can be the result of a noncancerous condition called enlarged prostatic tissue, or it could be an infection of the bladder. In either case, its important to see a doctor as soon as possible. If youre suffering from prostate pain, you may want to consider reducing your caffeine intake.
Another symptom of a potentially enlarged prostate is difficulty starting a stream of urine, leaking, or dribbling. These symptoms are not serious, but theyre still alarming. Most men put up with an enlarged prostate for years before seeking medical attention, but they typically seek treatment as soon as they notice symptoms. Even if you dont have symptoms, its worth getting checked to determine if you have any prostate issues.
If you experience nightly bathroom runs, you may be experiencing an enlarged prostate. You may be having difficulty starting a stream of urine, or you may even be dribbling or leaking during the day. These problems arent life-threatening, but can become a nuisance. You should not ignore these signs and seek treatment as soon as you notice them. If you feel any of these symptoms, you should consult a doctor.