What is hormone therapy?

Hormone therapy may also be called endocrine therapy or hormone-blocking therapy.

Some cancers grow in response to particular hormones. These cancers are known as hormone-dependent cancers. They include some types of breast, uterine and prostate cancers. The aim of hormone therapy is the slow or stop the growth of hormone receptor positive cells.

What is hormone therapy?

Hormone therapy uses synthetic hormones to block the effect of the body’s natural hormones. The aim is to lower the amount of hormones the tumour receives. This can help reduce the size and slow down the spread of the cancer.

The treatment may be given as tablets you swallow or injections. For some cancers, you may have surgery to remove a part of the body to stop the production of hormones, e.g. your ovaries may be removed to stop the production of oestrogen.

Hormone therapy to treat cancer is not the same thing as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT supplies the body with hormones that it is no longer able to produce naturally and is often used to treat the symptoms of menopause. People who have had their whole thyroid removed will also need hormone replacement therapy as their body no longer produces thyroxine. Learn more about thyroid hormone replacement therapy.

When is hormone therapy given?

Hormone therapy is usually used with other cancer treatments:

  • before surgery or radiation therapy to shrink a tumour
  • after treatment to reduce the risk of the cancer returning
  • to slow the growth of cancer that has spread throughout the body and help manage symptoms

Hormone therapy for breast cancer

Around 70-80% of breast cancers are sensitive to the hormones oestrogen (ER) or progesterone (PR). This means that these hormones may be helping the cancers grow. These cancers are called hormone receptor positive (ER+ and/or PR+), and they are likely to respond to hormone therapy that blocks oestrogen.

There are different ways to reduce the level of female hormones in the body, including anti-oestrogen drugs, aromatase inhibitors, and ovarian treatments. The choice will depend on your age, the type of breast cancer and − for women − whether you have reached menopause.

Hormone therapy for cancer of the uterus

Some cancers of the uterus grow in response to oestrogen.

Hormone treatment may be given if the cancer has spread or if the cancer has come back, particularly if it is a low-grade cancer. It is also sometimes offered in the first instance if surgery is not an option, for example, for women who still want to have children.

The main hormone treatment for oestrogen-dependent uterine cancer is progesterone.

Androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer

Prostate cancer needs testosterone to grow. Testosterone is an androgen (male sex hormone), so hormone therapy for prostate cancer is called androgen-deprivation therapy (ADT).

ADT slows the production of testosterone, which may slow the cancer’s growth or shrink it temporarily. It may be recommended for locally advanced or advanced prostate cancer.

Information courtesy of Cancer Council Australia – https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/treatment/hormone-therapy

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