The main purpose of hormone therapy for prostate cancer is to either:
That’s why it is sometimes referred to as “androgen deprivation therapy” or “androgen suppression” therapy.
The hormone problem
Certain male hormones — such as androgens that are primarily produced in a man’s testicles — can cause prostate cancer cells to grow.
Testosterone is a type of androgen that affects the growth of prostate cancer cells.
Effective but not curative
While hormone therapy for prostate cancer may help slow down the growth of prostate cancer cells, or may shrink the cancer, it is not considered to be a cure.
It is a treatment that can target prostate cancer throughout the body. That is why it is often used when:
May stop working over time
Unfortunately, prostate cancer often becomes resistant to long-term hormonal therapy. The term hormone-refractory is used when cancer stops responding to any type of hormone therapy.
To combat this, treatment may
be stopped for periods of time and then restarted again. There is not clear agreement among physicians
about when is the best time to start and stop hormone therapy for
You may also hear the term castrate resistant. This means that cancer is still growing, even when therapy is keeping testosterone levels at castrate levels, which are very low.
The effectiveness of hormone therapy for prostate cancer is usually monitored by PSA testing.
Types of hormone treatment for prostate cancer
Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone analogs/agonists:
Luteinizing hormone-releasing antagonists
Some physicians treat men with a combined androgen blockage (antiandrogens in combination with androgen deprivation therapy such as luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone agonists or antagonists) than with antiandrogens alone.
Others suggest using a triple androgen blockage (antiandrogens, plus a luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone agonist or antagonist, and a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor).
More clinical studies are needed to determine what combinations of hormone therapy for prostate cancer can be most effective.
Potential side effects
One side effect that can be very frustrating for both men and their loved ones following hormone therapy for prostate cancer is that men may have little or no desire for sex.
It may help to keep reminding yourself that your partner's lack of desire has nothing to do with his feelings for you. It's just an unwanted side effect of these drugs.
Other side effects of hormone therapy for prostate cancer can include:
Diarrhea, nausea, and liver problems have been associated with antiandrogens.
In addition to hot flashes, enzyme inhibitors (such as abiraterone), can cause:
Other medical problems that can develop include:
Some studies have shown that the risk of cardiovascular problems may rise, including:
Thinking, concentration, and memory problems are other side effects that have not been well studied, but can be disconcerting. Age may also be a factor.
When men first use luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone analogs/agonists, they may experience a tumor flare.
This may cause bone pain in men who have cancer that has spread to the bone, or spinal chord compression if the cancer has spread to the spine.
Help for side effects
Return to treatments
The American Cancer Society. Prostate Cancer. http://www.cancer.org. Accessed March 17, 2015.
US TOO International, Inc. Pathways for new prostate cancer patients. http://www.ustoo.com. Accessed September 1, 2008.
Bostwick DG, Crawford DE, Higano CS, Roach M, eds. American Cancer Society’s Complete Guide to Prostate Cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society Health Promotions; 2005.
Always consult a medical professional.