Prof. Serdar Turhal, a medical oncologist at Anadolu Medical Centre answers the most frequently asked questions about hormone therapies.
What is a hormone therapy for cancer?
Hormones are proteins, which are produced by the organism and which control the cell growth. Some parts of the body need sexual hormones, such as estrogen or testosterone in order to function and reproduce. Besides these, there are other hormones with various functions, such as thyroid hormones and insulin. The growth of some cancers also depends on hormones. Therefore, the treatment of such cancers requires drugs which destroy, block or stop the mechanism of this specific hormone. These treatment methods are known as hormone therapies.
Which cancers may hormone therapy be used for?
Given that hormones are important for cancer cells growth, then hormone therapies or antihormone therapies may play a useful role. Hormone therapies may be applied for the treatment of breast cancer, prostate cancer and some gynecological cancers. Antihormone therapies, however, are not beneficial for other frequently occurring cancers, and particularly lung, colorectal or stomach cancers, as the reproduction of their cells is not hormone-driven.
Do hormone therapies have any adverse effects?
Hormone therapies have certain adverse effects and some of them can be really troublesome to the patient. It is important to be aware of the adverse effects when making a decision on the treatment. Thus, a balance between the pros and cons resulting from the treatment is created.
The number of the side effects is great. The most frequent adverse effect are the hot flashes. The drugs applied against prostate cancer may cause loss of libido and erectile dysfunction, may cause bones loss and fatigue, or may result in gaining weight or difficulty in concentration. Moreover, the hormone therapies for breast cancer may cause hot flashes, vaginal dryness, may be the reason for fatigue, nausea, muscle and joint pains, and loss of libido. Bones may become weak and brittle, thus increasing the risk of fractures. In rare cases these hormone therapies may cause cancer, thrombosis, and stroke.
Is the patient on hormone therapy for cancer immunosuppressed?
Irrespective of the numerous adverse effects of hormone therapies, they do not affect the immune system. Therefore, no additional immunostimulants are required during hormone therapy. The adverse effects of hormone therapies, however, must be clearly understood, the preventive measures in this regard should be advised by the doctor and be applied consistently and without interruption. In the event the adverse effects are aggravated or persisting, regardless of these interventions, you have to advise a doctor again. The treatment does not necessarily be in the form of a medication. Physical exercises, for instance, may play a significant role in bone strength recovery. The administration of vitamin and mineral supplements such as calcium may be useful as well.