Many men find the side effects to be worse at the start of hormone therapy for prostate cancer.
But, these adverse effects usually simmer down in a couple of weeks or months.
Their severity and impact vary based on the treatment you receive. Some are a regular occurrence and develop in all cancer patients. Others not so much. They depend on the drug you are taking.
Here, we will take a closer look at the side effects of hormone therapy for prostate cancer. Including the reactions that can happen with the treatment of any other cancer besides that of the prostate.
Hormone Therapy for Prostate Cancer
Roughly 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Around 6 in 10 cases are recorded in patients older than 65. But, rarely in anyone under 40. Based on 2021 reports, there are about 248,530 new prostate cancer cases.
For some prostate cancer patients, hormone therapy is a practical choice for tackling the ailment. According to one report, the survival rate at 10 years in 56 patients with well-differentiated prostate cancer mitigated with primary hormone therapy was 100%.
In 85% – 90% of advanced prostate cancer cases, hormonal therapy can diminish the size of the tumor. Good candidates for androgen deprivation therapy are men who already had their prostate cancer removed.
Hormone therapy medicines can be a viable choice for patients looking to boost the effectiveness of surgery as well as for those who already had primary treatment (i.e., radiation therapy and/surgery) and had their prostate cancer return.
The therapy is here to mitigate advanced prostate cancer and interfere with tumor growth. It might relieve the signs of the affected prostate cancer cells. But, just like any therapy for cancer out there, androgen deprivation can cause adverse reactions.
How Hormone Therapy Works
Hormone therapy can be obtained via surgery, injections, or pills. The surgery takes out the hormone-producing organs, predominantly the testes in men and ovaries in women.
Male hormones act like a source of fuel for cancer. Without an adequate hormone supply, the tumor won’t thrive. Hormone treatment is meant to slowly yet surely starve the tumor from its much-needed hormone supply. It basically provides an androgen blockage.
Androgen deprivation puts a lid on testosterone release, thus preventing testosterone from acting on the prostate cancer cells. Androgen deprivation can be used in advanced prostate cancer to reduce the tumor.
When used in locally advanced prostate cancer, the therapy can make external beam radiation therapy more effective in curbing the risk of prostate cancer recurrence.
In certain individuals, the cancer cells respond well to the drop in testosterone level. But, for others, the block of testosterone is not enough. These cancer cells can thrive independently of testosterone. Therefore, the therapy won’t affect them.
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10 Side Effects of Hormone Therapy
Understanding the intricate details of hormonal treatment can be very difficult. There is not enough data on which therapy works best.
But, the side effects of hormone therapy for prostate cancer are well-defined. They depend based on the drugs and treatment you are taking.
The hormone fluctuations during prostate cancer treatment can cause some significant tiredness.
For some patients, the exhaustion kicks in relatively suddenly. So, it is important to avoid driving after treatment.
2. Hot Flashes
Hot flashes are typical side effects in men on androgen or LHRH agonists. The androgen meds can cause hot flashes quite like those seen in people who go through menopause. Around 80% of male patients on an LHRH agonist get this side effect.
3. Erectile Dysfunction
Since prostate cancer is more likely to appear with old age, at least a third of patients already have erectile dysfunction at diagnosis.
Even in just 3 to 4 months of hormone therapy, the desire for sex dissipates. Erections don’t recover in around one-half of patients even after the therapy is discontinued.
4. Hair Thinning
The low progesterone and estrogen when treating prostate cancer cells mean hair might start to fall sooner than you expect as is the case with breast cancer. It will also take time to grow back. In an effort to stabilize cancer, it’s important to block testosterone.
5. Muscle and Bone Changes
GnRH agonists drastically reduce bone mineral density in patients with prostate cancer. Most trials indicate a 2% to 3% drop a year in bone mineral density, mainly in the spine and hips.
6. Weight Gain
Some people might put on a few extra pounds during cancer treatment. Of course, it may not happen for everyone. But, maintaining a healthy diet with an active lifestyle can keep this to a minimum.
When paired with chemo, hormone therapy can trigger migraines or headaches. Meds for anti-nausea, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy combinations can also cause headaches.
8. Memory Issues
Hormone therapy, whether that is an androgen or any other therapy, can cause a mild cognitive impairment.
Some patients notice a change in the way they remember things post-treatment. They might forget what they were supposed to buy, and so on.
9. Mood Swings & Depression
Patients who take pharmacologic androgen to manage their prostate carcinoma could be at higher risk of experiencing depression. Some also notice mood swings.
10. Blood Clots
Men on hormone therapy are more susceptible to developing blood clots in their lungs, arteries, or veins. This predisposes them to potential heart problems.
How You Can Manage or Minimize the Side Effects
Talk to your doctor. The sexual adverse effects are some of the most difficult problems to deal with. To manage ED, people often take ED drugs like Viagra. For those who experience bone loss, your doctor might prescribe drugs that slow or reverse this side effect.
Regular physical activity can curb some of these reactions of localized prostate cancer. If you are taking pharmacologic androgen or need to block the testosterone, see how your body is reacting to it. If you notice any changes, consult with a specialist.
Usually, the side effects go away once the patient stops taking the therapy. At other times, men like to use herbal medicine or supplements.
The prostate goes through a hefty ordeal during treatment. Cancer itself can cause havoc in the prostate. So, having a treatment that would provide beneficial results does come in handy.
Hormone therapy is often considered a practical strategy for treating prostate carcinoma. But, before you choose a treatment for the prostate, be sure to talk to a specialist. Every prostate carcinoma therapy has its pros and cons. Your doctor can suggest the best approach.