Prostate cancer hormone therapy refers to the process of interrupting of the body’s production of testosterone which, may help stop or slow the growth and spread of prostate cancer. It is also known as androgen deprivation therapy.
The sex hormone testosterone is what causes the growth of the prostate gland and other sexual organs in males. Even after puberty, testosterone continues to cause the prostate to grow. However testosterone cannot tell the difference between healthy cells and cancerous cells. Hormone therapy cuts off the supply of hormones that fuel the growth of cells, which can slow and even stop the growth of the tumor.
Testosterone production in the body is controlled by the hypothalamus gland located in the brain. If a person’s testosterone levels drop, this gland releases chemical triggers to stimulate the release of more of the hormone.
There are four basic methods of hormone therapy to combat prostate cancer:
Castration, also known as orchiectomy, surgically removes the testicles, which produces 90% of the body’s testosterone. Orchiectomy is effective in quickly lowering testosterone levels.
Estrogen is the female sex hormone, but when it is introduced into the body it confuses the hypothalamus into ceasing testosterone production. Estrogen treatment is not commonly used to treat prostate cancer due to the fact that the synthetic version has been shown to cause serious cardiovascular problems.
Anti-androgens fill the receptors in prostate cells. These receptors are responsible for how the prostate receives testosterone and by blocking them; it is possible to stop the growth of cancer cells. Unlike other forms of hormone treatment, anti-androgens do not interfere with the production of testosterone in the body. Because of this, men typically experience fewer or less severe side-effects such as urinary incontinence or erectile dysfunction.
Combined Androgen Blockade
This method is used to treat more advanced or severe cases of prostate cancer and involves both castration and anti-androgens. This method prevents the testicles from producing 90% of the body’s testosterone and blocks the prostate’s ability to receive the hormone.
Hormone therapy is often used to shrink the prostate prior to radiation therapy in early-stage prostate cancer. This makes the tumor much easier to destroy using radiation treatments. Hormone therapy is also sometimes used after surgery or radiation to help prevent the recurrence of the cancer cells.
As with other forms of prostate cancer treatment, hormone therapy carries the risk of erectile dysfunction and may also
increase the risk of heart disease or heart attack.