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Getting hormonal therapy

Different types of hormonal therapy are given in different ways. The type of hormonal therapy will determine if it is given at the hospital or in a radiation therapy centre or if it is taken at home. Your healthcare team will explain exactly how you will get hormonal therapy.

Preparing for hormonal therapy

Sometimes lab or pathology tests, including hormone receptor tests, are used to see how well a tumour will respond to hormonal therapy. If the doctor decides that hormonal therapy will benefit the person, it will be added to the treatment plan.

Preparing for hormonal therapy depends on the type of treatment chosen. Some special preparations may be needed before surgery or radiation therapy.

Types of hormonal therapy

Surgery, radiation therapy and drugs can be used as hormonal and anti-hormonal treatment options for cancer. The type of treatment depends on the type of cancer.

Surgery

Surgery is used to remove hormone-producing glands or organs.

  • Removing the ovaries (oophorectomy) lowers the level of estrogen in the body. This surgery may be used to treat breast cancer.
  • Removing the testicles (orchiectomy) lowers the level of testosterone in the body. This surgery may be used to treat prostate cancer.

Radiation therapy

Radiation is aimed at hormone-producing glands or organs to destroy the cells that produce hormones. For example, radiation is directed at the ovaries to stop them from producing estrogen.

The radiation oncologist calculates the dose, number and length of radiation treatments to tailor treatments for each person with cancer. It is usually given as external beam radiation therapy.

Hormonal drug therapy

Drugs are commonly used to stop (suppress) hormone production. The type of hormonal drug therapy and the length of treatment depend on the type of cancer and the person’s response to treatment. The drugs may be used for a specific length of time or for as long as the cancer responds to the treatment. Combinations of hormonal therapy drugs may be used in some situations.

Types of hormonal drug therapy include:

  • anti-androgens
  • anti-estrogens
  • aromatase inhibitors
  • progestins

Hormonal drug therapies can be taken by mouth (orally) or by a needle into a vein (intravenous injection, or IV).

  • Examples of drugs taken by mouth include tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Tamofen) and flutamide (Euflex).
  • Hormonal drug therapies may be injected into the fatty tissue under the skin. They may be given once a month or every 3–4 months. Examples of drugs that are injected include goserelin (Zoladex) and leuprolide (Lupron, Lupron Depot, Eligard).

After hormonal therapy

Recovery during and after hormonal therapy depends on the:

  • type of hormonal therapy used
  • person’s general health and how well they tolerated the therapy
  • side effects experienced

The healthcare team will give instructions if there are special precautions or restrictions that you need to take after hormonal therapy.

Follow-up

Follow-up appointments are usually scheduled to:

  • see how the cancer is responding to hormonal therapy
  • see how the person is tolerating hormonal drug therapy
  • discuss ways of lessening and treating any side effects

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