Prostate cancer treatment: Hormone therapy (androgen deprivation therapy)

Hormone therapy, also known as androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), can slow down prostate cancer in one of two ways:

  • preventing your body from making testosterone

  • blocking testosterone from reaching the prostate cancer cells

The type of hormone therapy you may be offered depends on your type of prostate cancer, if you’ve had any other treatments and personal preferences.

Why is testosterone so important
to prostate cancer?

Testosterone is a normal hormone your body produces – mostly in the testicles. It plays a role in a man’s appearance, sexual development, sperm production, and sex drive. It impacts your erections and can affect prostate growth. It’s a critical hormone that your body uses for many other functions, including building your muscle and bone mass.

But there is also an important link between testosterone and prostate cancer. Prostate cancer cells use testosterone to grow and spread—think of it as ‘fertilizer’ for the cancer. Lowering testosterone in the body—either with surgery or medications—can help kill or slow down some prostate cancer cells.

What kinds of hormone therapies
are used to lower testosterone?

The type of hormone therapy you may be offered depends on your type of prostate cancer, personal preferences and if you’ve had any other treatments.

Medications to block the production of testosterone in the testicles

This type of hormone therapy lowers the amount of testosterone made by your testicles.

There are two commonly used types:

  • LHRH agonists
    LHRH stands for luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone. These medications prevent your testicles from receiving the message from your brain (with LHRH being the messenger) to produce testosterone.

    Examples of LHRH agonists include leuprolide (Lupron, Eligard) and triptorelin (Trelstar). Histrelin (Vantas) and goserelin (Zoladex) work in a similar way but are implants.

  • GnRH antagonists:

    GnRH stands for gonadotropin-releasing hormone. Similar to LHRH agonists, these medications also prevent the testicles from making testosterone.

    Degarelix (Firmagon) is an example of a GnRH antagonist.

Both treatments are commonly used to treat prostate cancer that has spread to other locations like bones and lymph nodes (advanced prostate cancer). They can also be used along with radiation therapy in less advanced prostate cancer.

Depending on the specific medication, it can be given:

  • once a month

  • once every 3, 4 or 6 months

  • once a year

Speak to your doctor about the availability of these medicines and what your exact treatment plan might be.

Anti-androgens (testosterone blockers)

Anti-androgens work by preventing testosterone from getting to and acting on the prostate cancer cells.
They’re usually not used on their own to treat prostate cancer but combined with other hormone therapies or treatments.

Examples of older anti-androgens include nilutamide (Nilandron), Flutamide (Eulexin) and bicalutamide (Casodex). Examples of newer anti-androgens include enzalutamide (Xtandi) and apalutamide (Erleada).

Some anti-androgens also work by preventing cells (including prostate cancer cells) from making testosterone. This includes the drug, abiraterone acetate (Zytiga).

Orchiectomy (surgery to remove the testicles)

During an orchiectomy, both testicles are removed with surgery so there are no testicles to produce testosterone.

An orchiectomy may be offered to men who need long-term hormone therapy.

The surgery is irreversible, meaning you can't undo it later. So if you are considering an orchiectomy, your doctor may suggest trying other forms of hormone therapy first to see how your body responds to low levels of testosterone.

Intermittent hormone therapy

With intermittent hormone therapy, hormone treatment will be paused once your PSA levels drop and stay stable. Some doctors call this the "off" phase. If PSA levels and testosterone start to rise, therapy will be started again. One major benefit to this type of treatment is that your side effects might be relieved during the off times.

When is hormone
therapy used?

Hormone therapy may be used at many points during the management of prostate cancer. It may also be used alongside other treatments for prostate cancer. On its own, it doesn't cure cancer. For men with

, hormone therapy is used to try and keep cancer from growing, which hopefully improves your quality of life and how long you may live.

If you have localized prostate cancer (early-stage cancer that has not spread outside the prostate gland), hormone therapy can be used to increase the effectiveness of your treatment.

It may be used with the following treatments:

  • radiation therapy - often

  • chemotherapy - usually

  • surgery - rarely

  • HIFU (currently only available in clinical trials)

With locally advanced prostate cancer (when cancer has spread outside the prostate to the immediate surrounding area in the pelvis), hormone therapy is offered before, after and during radiation therapy to increase its effectiveness.

With advanced prostate cancer (when cancer has spread to organs, bones and lymph nodes outside the pelvis), hormone therapy is likely to be a life-long treatment. While advanced prostate cancer cannot be cured, the disease may be controlled using hormone therapy. Prostate cancer treated with hormone therapy may become resistant to this treatment over years and you may need other treatments.

How do you know if hormone therapy
is working to treat prostate cancer?

During treatment, you’ll have regular PSA (prostate specific antigen) tests to see how well it’s working. You may also have your testosterone levels checked regularly, to make sure the hormone therapy is lowering your testosterone. If your PSA level goes down, it can mean your treatment is working as planned. The speed at which it falls and how much it falls will be different from one individual to another.

However, if your PSA levels keep rising, your doctor will talk to you about other treatment options. Consistently rising PSA levels can mean the hormone therapy is not working well.

Are there any side effects to hormone therapy?

It’s normal to experience some changes to your body during hormone therapy for prostate cancer. Possible side effects can include:

  • Hot flashes

  • Fatigue

  • Increase in body fat

  • Loss of muscle mass

  • Changes in mood or metabolism

Learn more about possible


What's next?

Now that you've read up on Prostate cancer treatment: Hormone therapy (androgen deprivation therapy), here are some related articles to explore as you continue to build your knowledge and understanding of this topic.
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