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Prostate cancer health centre

Hormone therapy (with drugs or surgery)

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for men who have early prostate cancer. It tells you about hormone therapy, a treatment used for prostate cancer. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

Hormone treatment may stop your cancer growing and help to kill existing cancer cells. It isn't usually used on its own for early-stage prostate cancer, but your doctor may recommend having it with radiotherapy if your cancer seems like it might spread. Research shows this might help you live longer.

Hormone treatment has side effects. You need to decide with your doctor whether this treatment is right for you.

The information here is for men whose cancer is at an early stage and has not been detected outside their prostate gland. Some doctors call this stage clinically localised cancer and classify the cancer as T1 or T2. For more information about how doctors classify prostate cancer, see How far has your cancer spread? The TNM system.

What is it?

Hormone treatment uses surgery or drugs to block the action of the male sex hormones that help prostate cancer grow. This treatment is also called androgen deprivation and androgen suppression.

Male hormones are called androgens, and the main one is testosterone. The cells that make up your prostate need testosterone for two reasons:

  • To grow at puberty

  • To produce the fluid for your sperm to swim in.

Your prostate doesn't produce testosterone itself. Testosterone is mainly produced by your testicles. A small amount also comes from your adrenal glands (two organs that lie on the surface of your kidneys).

Like normal prostate cells, cancer cells in the prostate also need testosterone. It helps them grow faster, multiply and spread. The aim of hormone treatment is to stop the cancer cells getting testosterone so that they stop growing and die. This treatment doesn't remove the tumour.

There are two ways to stop the cancer cells getting testosterone:

  • By removing your testicles through surgery

  • By using drugs (tablets or injections) to switch off your hormone supply.

Surgery

Removing your testicles permanently gets rid of the main source of testosterone. It's unlikely that you'll have this done if you have early-stage cancer. Most men who need hormone treatment use drugs to block their testosterone.

Removing the testicles is a minor operation, and you will need a local anaesthetic (a drug that numbs the area being operated on) or a general anaesthetic (a drug that makes you sleep). It is possible for you to keep your scrotum and just have your testes (the organs inside it) removed. Your testes are taken out through a tiny cut in your scrotum.

Artificial testicles can be implanted so your scrotum looks the same as before. You will probably not need to stay in hospital overnight. Doctors call this surgery orchidectomy.

Injections of drugs
Last Updated: August 06, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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