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What is hormone therapy?

Hormones are chemicals produced by glands, such as the ovaries and testicles. Hormones help some types of cancer cells to grow, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer. In other cases, hormones can kill cancer cells, make cancer cells grow more slowly or stop them from growing. Hormone therapy as a cancer treatment may involve taking medications that interfere with the activity of the hormone or stop the production of the hormones. Hormone therapy may involve surgically removing a gland that is producing the hormones.

Why it's done

Your physician may prescribe hormone therapies before or after cancer treatment. If hormone therapy is given as a first step to shrink a tumor before the main treatment, it is called neoadjuvant treatment. Neoadjuvant treatments help to kill cancer cells and contribute to the effectiveness of the primary therapy. If hormone therapy is given after the primary cancer treatment, it is called adjuvant treatment. Adjuvant therapy is given to improve the chance of a cure.

With some cancers, you may be given hormone therapy as soon as cancer is diagnosed and before any other treatment. It may shrink a tumor, or it may halt the advance of the disease. And in some cancers, such as prostate cancer, it is helpful in alleviating the painful and distressing symptoms of advanced disease. The National Cancer Institute states that although hormone therapy cannot cure prostate cancer, it will usually shrink or halt the advance of disease, often for years.

Our approach

At Northwell Health Cancer Institute, our team of medical oncologists offers the most advanced, individualized hormone therapies to provide the best possible outcome.  They do this while also proactively managing potential side effects. Hormone therapy is administered following strict standards of care while also addressing your specific needs. This begins with an in-depth conversation describing your treatment, including what to expect, possible side effects and goals. Personalized treatment also includes careful consideration of current health, family history, age and your preferences.

Your multidisciplinary team of doctors, including radiologists, surgeons, pathologists, medical oncologists and radiology oncologists, collaborates to ensure that every aspect of your treatment is precisely coordinated. This includes ongoing peer review and chart rounds.

Because convenience is a priority, we offer multiple locations for hormone therapy to enable you to obtain treatment near where you live or work. In addition, assistance is available to help with obtaining medications, managing insurance issues and completing paper work.

Research at Northwell

Advances in hormone therapies to treat cancer are continuously happening here. Through our alliance with leading research organizations, such as Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, we participate in investigator-initiated trials to offer the most leading-edge therapies to patients. 

Northwell Health Cancer Institute is recognized for its commitment to providing pioneering treatment for cancer patients. The ongoing focus has contributed to significant advancements that are improving the quality of lives and increasing the number of cancer survivors.

Learn more about clinical trials and research happening at Northwell Health Cancer Institute.

What to expect

Your physician may recommend a hormone receptor test to help determine treatment options and learn more about your tumor. This test can help to predict whether the cancer cells are sensitive to hormones. The test measures the amount of certain proteins (called hormone receptors) in cancer tissue. Hormones (such as estrogen and progesterone that naturally occur in the body) can attach to these proteins. If the test is positive, it is indicating that the hormone is probably helping the cancer cells to grow. In this case, hormone therapy may be given to block the way the hormone works and help keep the hormone away from the cancer cells. If the test is negative, the hormone does not affect the growth of the cancer cells, and other effective cancer treatments may be given.

If the test indicates that the hormones are affecting the cancer, the cancer may be treated in one of the following ways:

  • Treating cancer cells to keep them from receiving the hormones they need to grow
  • Treating the glands that produce hormones to keep them from making hormones
  • Surgery to remove hormone producing glands, such as the ovaries that produce estrogen or the testicles that produce testosterone.

The type of hormone therapy you receive depends upon many factors, such as the type and size of the tumor, your age, the presence of hormone receptors on the tumor and other factors.

Possible side effects

Side effects of hormone therapies include:

  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Increased body fat
  • Erectile dysfunction or loss of sex drive
  • Decreased body hair
  • Growth of breast tissue
  • Bone thinning

Your team of specialists is highly focused on preventing and managing side effects throughout and after your treatment.

Support groups

Cancer is challenging, but you don’t have to go it alone. At Northwell Health Cancer Institute, a wide range of support groups are available to help you cope with diagnosis, treatment and post-treatment issues.

Learn more about support groups.

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