Prostate cancer

Hormonal therapy

Prostate cancer

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Prostate cancers are affected by male sex hormones known as androgens.

Reducing the effect of androgens is one of the ways to treat prostate cancers. It is known as androgen deprivation therapy (ADT).

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.


Androgens are the male sex hormones. Most are made in the testes (testicles).

The two main androgens are:

  • testosterone
  • dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Androgen deprivation therapy

Androgens make prostate cancer cells grow. Therefore, reducing the amount of androgens, or stopping them from working, can shrink or slow the growth of prostate cancers. This is known as androgen deprivation therapy (ADT).

There are several types of ADT, which work in different ways:

  • tablets or injections that reduce the production of testosterone
  • surgical removal of the testes (orchidectomy) to stop the production of androgens
  • tablets that block the effect of androgens called anti-androgens.

Androgen deprivation therapy is given for different stages of prostate cancer. These include:

  • to shrink the cancer before other treatment
  • to help radiation therapy work better
  • to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back after treatment
  • in advanced cancer to slow the growth or spread of the cancer, or to control symptoms
  • for men who are not able to have surgery or radiation therapy due to other health problems.

What to ask or talk about

Side effects of androgen deprivation therapy?

Some common side effects of ADT for prostate cancer are listed below:

  • reduced interest in sex
  • impotence – trouble getting or keeping an erection
  • infertility – inability to father a child
  • lower bone density and osteoporosis
  • hot flushes
  • increased weight
  • decreased muscle mass and strength
  • increase in breast size
  • decrease in the size of penis and testes
  • thinning of hair
  • difficulty concentrating and remembering
  • mood swings
  • tiredness (fatigue).

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

Some hormonal therapy 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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