Division of Hematology/Oncology


Hormone Therapy

Medical oncologists at Penn Medicine may use hormone therapy to treat cancer. Hormone therapy keeps cancer cells from receiving the hormones they need to grow and spread.

About Hormone Therapy

Hormones are chemicals produced by various glands in the body. They circulate in the bloodstream and some hormones can affect the way certain cancers grow. Hormones that can stimulate cancer include:

  • Estrogen
  • Progesterone
  • Testosterone

Hormone therapy blocks the production or the effects of these hormones and helps stop the cancer from growing. Treatment may include the use of drugs that change the way hormones work, or surgery to remove the ovaries or the testicles in order to stop hormone production.

Examples of Hormone Therapy

Some examples of hormone therapy include:

  • In breast cancer, tamoxifen is a type of hormonal therapy that works by blocking estrogen from binding to breast cancer cells that have estrogen receptors (about 2/3 of all breast cancers). If estrogen binds to these receptors, it stimulates those cells to grow. Other hormonal therapies for breast cancer include aromatase inhibitors, which block estrogen production by an enzyme called aromatase, and fulvestrant, a drug that interferes with the effects of estrogen on the estrogen receptor itself.
  • In prostate cancer, drugs are used to lower the testosterone level, or affect how testosterone interacts with cancer cell. Lowering testosterone levels or blocking the effects of testosterone inhibits prostate cancer growth. This type of therapy is important in treating advanced (metastatic) prostate cancer and is also used in combination with radiation for selected patients. Examples of drugs that affect testosterone levels or effects include leuprolide, bicalutamide and abiraterone.

The Penn Difference

Penn medical oncologists are experts in the use of hormone therapy to stop cancer from growing and spreading.

Penn's multidisciplinary approach to medical treatment helps patients and their families achieve the best survival and quality of life. Medical oncologists at Penn coordinate overall patient care and direct hormone therapy and other related treatments.

Registered nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants work with medical oncologists to promote the best quality of life possible for patients receiving hormonal therapies by helping to manage symptoms that may develop as the result of hormonal therapies such as hot flashes.

Diseases Treated with Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy is not appropriate for all disease types. Hematologists/oncologists at Penn Medicine use hormone therapy to treat:

  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer

In addition to hormone therapy, Penn Hematology/Oncology treatments include:

  • Bone marrow transplant and stem cell therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted molecular therapy
  • Vaccine therapy

Patients at Penn Medicine also have the expertise and support of the Abramson Cancer Center, a comprehensive cancer center recognized by the National Cancer Institute as "exceptional" that provides patients with specialized cancer treatment and support teams.