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The benifits and side effects of hormone therapy by Oncovia

Hormonal Therapy: Benefits & Side Effects

Some cancers are affected by hormones in the blood. This means that cancerous receptor cells attach to hormones, helping them grow. One of the ways to stop this is through hormone therapy, a cancer treatment that slows or stops the growth of cancer.

How is hormone sensitivity detected?

Hormone sensitivity is detected by an anatomopathological examination. The doctor takes a fragment of the tumour (biopsy) or examines the tumour removed during surgery to detect whether the cancer cells have estrogen and/or progesterone receptors. If these receptors are identified, it means that the tumour is hormone-sensitive and uses hormones to grow.

 What types of treatments exist?

Two types of hormone treatments are possible in order to limit the impact of hormones on the cancer cells:

  • Systemic therapy (oral drug therapy): this treatment is effective on the whole body and on all of the hormone-sensitive cells. This is the most common treatment used.
  • Non-drug treatment: either estrogen reproduction is stopped by an Oophorectomy (removal of ovaries) or by radiotherapy that will irradiate the estrogen receptors.

Hormone therapy treatment usually begins after chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

The advantages of hormone therapy:

  • Adjuvant hormone therapy: this type of treatment is prescribed in the case of localised or non-metastatic hormone-sensitive cancers and is a preventive treatment. After surgery, this treatment can be prescribed for a period of up to 5 years to minimise the risk of a relapse and reduce the risk of distant metastasis.
  • Neo-adjuvant hormone therapy: prescribed before any type of surgery, its role is to shrink the tumour when it is too large for immediate surgery or to enable breast-conserving surgery. Lastly, it is prescribed to treat inflammatory cancers.
  • Hormone therapy for cancers with metastases: it can be prescribed by itself or with other drugs. This treatment will help stabilise the disease and improve the quality of life of the patient.

The side effects of hormone therapy

The side effects of this treatment can vary from case to case, with each person reacting differently. Side effects start at the beginning of treatment and can last for a few months after finishing.

  • Nausea and vomiting: in general, these effects diminish as the treatment progresses and the body gets used to the drug. Taking the medication while eating or before bedtime can help reduce or relieve these side effects.
  • Gaining weight: minor hand and feet swelling may be observed, as well as some weight gain. This can be balanced out with regular physical activity and a healthy diet.
  • Decreased sexual interest: this side effect usually stops after treatment has finished. In some cases, it can persist for a longer period of time. Do not hesitate to talk to your doctor.
  • Hot flashes and sweating: it usually calms down once your body adapts to the treatment. Herbal medicine and herbal infusions can help relieve these hot flashes. It is important to consult your doctor beforehand to make sure the herbs can be taken during therapy.
  • Menopause: when the ovaries are surgically removed or irradiated, menopause can be permanent. During hormonal therapy, menopause is temporary, but the symptoms are basically the same: weight gain, hot flushes, loss of bone density… To reduce these effects, dietary supplements, such as, calcium and vitamin D are recommended.
  • Erectile dysfunction: according to this VitalFlow Review this type of side effect affects men with prostate cancer. There are many solutions that exist, such as, the implantation of a penile prosthesis, the use of a vacuum pump or taking the right medicine. Do not hesitate to ask your doctor for more information. 
  • Infertility: infertility can be permanent in case of an ablation of the testicles or ovaries. If you are only taking medication, it is temporary. It usually goes back to normal once the hormone therapy is completed.
  • Diarrhea: some hormonal drugs will affect the cells in the digestive system. It is possible to limit this by eating in smaller quantities and more frequently, for example, 5 times a day instead of 3.
  • Fatigue: the fatigue is a common side effect that may diminish over time. In this case, it is necessary to exercise, have a balanced diet and most importantly, have a stable sleep pattern.