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Hormone Therapy

At Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center, our gynecologic oncologists, urologists and medical and surgical oncologists are experienced in the use of hormone therapy as a part of an overall cancer treatment program. Most often used to treat breast and prostate cancers, hormone therapy uses drugs to slow the growth of cancer cells.

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.

Diseases Treated with Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy is not appropriate for all disease types. Abramson Cancer Center uses hormone therapy to treat:

For more information on hormone therapy, visit OncoLink.