Many men who are being treated for advanced prostate cancer are good candidates for hormonal therapy, a treatment strategy that uses medications to decrease the production of testosterone, the male hormone that helps prostate cancer cells to grow and thrive.
The treatment causes reduction in blood testosterone to very low levels. Since most prostate cancer cells require the presence of testosterone for growth, the treatment results in significant benefit to the patient. Treatment typically consists of an injection of medication every three to four months. An oral medication that further blocks the effect of testosterone is often also given during the first month of hormonal therapy. Hormone therapy may have various side-effects which include:
- Hot flashes
- Muscle weakness
- Diminished sexual urge/erectile dysfunction
- Loss of bone density
- Weight gain
- Breast tenderness
- Mild anemia
Although hormonal therapy cannot “cure” prostate cancer, it can slow the cancer’s growth and reduce the size of the tumors. Most commonly, hormonal therapy is used in late-stage prostate cancers that have spread or metastasized beyond the prostate gland and pelvic area. However, hormonal therapy can also be used in earlier-stage cancers in conjunction with surgery or radiation therapy.
In the past, hormonal therapy was usually continued throughout the remainder of the patient’s lifetime. More recently, however, research trials have demonstrated that hormonal therapy can be discontinued and then reinitiated in a controlled way to enhance survival and improve quality of life. This treatment is called intermittent androgen deprivation therapy. NorthShore University HealthSystem is one of several Chicago-area medical centers that continue to test this treatment method in clinical trials.