If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, you may be offered hormone therapy to treat it. Increasingly, hormone therapy is the treatment of choice, rather than surgery. Surgery to reduce hormone levels may only be offered if the cancer has spread to other areas or is in a more advanced stage.
Prostate cancer is usually caused by the production of too much testosterone - the male hormone - so drugs which suppress testosterone can actually shrink the tumor and stop it from recurring.
Drugs used in the treatment and prevention of prostate cancer are:
Down Regulators - these shut down the natural function of the reproductive system and are also used for women and in IVF cycles to stop ovulation. They include drugs such as goserelin and buserilin. They work by telling the pituitary gland in the brain not to make testosterone.
Anti-androgens - these drugs include flutamide and bicalutamide, as well as other drug names. These stop the hormone testosterone from reaching the cancer cells in your body.
Some men have only down regulation drugs and others have only anti-androgens. Some are treated with both types of drug. It depends on your cancer and its stage as to how you are treated.
Implanted hormone suppressors have also recently become available. A small implant is inserted under the skin to control symptoms of advanced cancer. However, this is usually only offered to men with a terminal prognosis.
Side-effects of hormone therapy:
Unfortunately, as with any drug therapy, hormone therapy carries risks and side-effects. Down regulators can actually make the situation worse to start with and cause what is called a 'tumor flare up'. Your doctor can give you anti-androgens to stop this from occuring. This is why many men are offered both drugs at the same time.
Other side-effects include hot flashes and sweating, sore chest, soreness at the injection site, difficulty in getting an erection or a lack of interest in sex. Anti-androgens are associated with erection problems. If you have long-term treatment, you are also at risk of liver failure and heart attack, particularly if you are an older man.