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How Does Hormone Therapy Work?

Hormone therapy uses drugs — and, in some cases, surgery — to stop cancer cells from growing.

Hormone therapy works in two basic ways.

It either:

  • Prevents the production of abnormal hormones that can cause cancer.
  • Alters the actions of the hormones.

The Link Between Hormones and Cancer

Many glands throughout the body produce hormones, each of which has one or more jobs.

In women, the ovaries — as well as fat and skin cells — produce hormones called estrogen and progesterone.

These hormones contribute to a woman's sexual characteristics and reproductive functions. They can also promote the growth of some breast cancer.

In men, the testicles — and, to a smaller extent, the adrenal glands — produce testosterone and dihydrotestosterone.

These hormones regulate a man's sexual development and function. When the body makes too many of these hormones, they can cause cancer of the prostate.

In both sexes, hormonal abnormalities can cause kidney cancer.

How Hormone Therapy Can Treat Cancer

Hormone therapy can involve the use of synthetic hormones or drugs to disrupt the action of the body’s natural hormones. It stops the flood of hormones to the affected tissues and deprives the cancer of what it needs to grow.

Some drugs stop the production of natural hormones altogether. This also stops or slows the growth of the cancer.

In some cases, your UPMC Hillman Cancer Center care team may suggest surgery to remove the gland that makes the hormone.

Types of Hormone Therapy Drugs

The hormone therapy you receive will depend on the type of cancer you have.

If you have Then your doctor may prescribe
breast cancer, tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is a drug that blocks receptors on the breast cancer cells. By blocking these receptors, estrogen can't bind to the cancer cells.
prostate cancer, an antiandrogen drug. Antiandrogens block the prostate cancer cells from binding to testosterone to try to prevent cancer growth.

Contact Us About Medical Oncology and Chemotherapy

To learn more about medical oncology and chemotherapy or to make an appointment, you can: