General cancer information

Hormonal therapy

General cancer information

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Some cancers can be affected by hormones, which are chemicals produced by the body. Hormonal therapy is a way of treating these cancers.

Not all cancers can be treated with hormonal therapy.

What you need to know

What are hormones?

Hormones are chemicals that are produced by glands in the body. They travel in the bloodstream to tissues and organs in different parts of the body. They can affect how some cells grow and reproduce.

The body produces several different hormones. Each hormone only affects certain cells. These cells have receptors for that hormone.

What are hormone sensitive cancers?

Some cancers are hormone sensitive. They contain cells with hormone receptors. When the right hormone reaches these cells, they grow and reproduce.

Cancers that can be hormone sensitive include:

  • breast
  • prostate
  • ovarian
  • endometrial (uterus).

What is hormonal therapy?

Hormonal therapy is a way of treating hormone-sensitive cancers. Different hormonal therapies work in different ways. They either:

  • stop the body from making the hormone, or
  • stop the hormone from affecting the cancer cells.

What to ask or talk about

Side effects of hormonal therapy

Most people get some side effects during hormonal treatment. These depend on which hormonal therapy you have, but can also vary from one person to another.

Some common side effects of hormonal therapy are listed below. Most people will get some, but not all, of these:

  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • weight gain
  • mood swings
  • bone changes
  • memory problems.

Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist what side effects to expect, and how to manage them.

Some hormonal therapies can affect fertility. If this is a concern for you, talk to your doctor about it. For more information, you may also want to read our section on Fertility issues.

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Where to get help

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