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Using Hormones to Treat Prostate Cancer: September 18, 2012

When it comes to treating prostate cancer, it’s not uncommon for doctors to prescribe hormone therapy.

“It’s not a cure, but it will actually cause a significant reduction and slowing of disease progression,” says Dr. William Figlesthaler, a urologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Hormone treatment fights the cancer by turning off testosterone production, but it can come with side effects, the kind men find especially troubling.

“The effects of giving estrogen are going to be the same effects you get with any form of hormone therapy, which would include some weight gain, sexual dysfunction, memory loss, lack of energy, breast enlargement or soreness, hot flashes,” says Dr. Figlesthaler.

To minimize these effects, doctors will sometimes ‘pulse’ treatments, giving hormones when needed instead of continuously.

“Just give the person a short course of the hormone therapy.  Thereby they have a longer interval of not being on hormone therapy, and wait until the cancer progresses again, and then give them another injection,” says Dr. Figlesthaler.

New studies looked at both continuous hormone therapy and interval therapy and found giving hormones non-stop added years to the lives of patients with hormone sensitive prostate cancer.

“Patients that were treated with hormone therapy in the early stages of prostate cancer, as their sole therapy, actually did better and survived longer if they were on consistent or complete hormone therapy from the very beginning,” says Dr. Figlesthaler.

The side affects of hormone therapy can be counter-acted with medication and lifestyle changes, while the benefits of continuous therapy were significant; boosting life expectancy by two years.

“When people have cancer, the two things that are important is the quality of life, then how much life do they have,” says Dr. Figlesthaler.