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Definition of Hormonal Cancer
Types of cancer that thrive on or require hormones for their survival. In men, androgens (notably testosterone) sustain prostate cancer. in women, estrogens and progesterone feed many types of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterus).
Arise in cells that are hormone dependent. However, researchers do not know whether hormones cause these cancers to develop or simply fuel them after they form. Researchers do know that breast cancer and ovarian cancer occur more often in women who have extended exposure to estrogen, such as with early onset of menstruation (menarche before age 12) or late menopause (after age 55).
The use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopause may also increase a woman’s risk for these cancers, though research continues to investigate these connections.
The correlation between hormones and cancer becomes even less distinct with prostate cancer. Researchers know that testosterone fuels the growth of prostate cancer cells once the cancer develops. But the role of testosterone in the development of prostate cancer is unknown. Unlike estrogen and progesterone levels in women, testosterone levels in men are fairly constant though do decline gradually after age 30.
Some researchers believe it is lower testosterone levels that allow prostate cells to mutate, becoming cancerous. Other researchers believe the changing balance between estrogen and testosterone in a man’s body as he ages plays a contributing role.
Hormonal cancer in men and women is more likely after age 50.
Hormone therapy as adjuvant therapy is the standard of care for most hormone-driven cancers. Primary treatment may be surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy, or a mix of any or all of these treatment options. Oncologists use luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonists, which suppress the body’s production of androgens and estrogens, to treat prostate cancer in men and breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers in women.
Aromatase inhibitors, which block the body’s ability to convert androgens to estrogen, and tamoxifen, which binds with estrogen receptors to block estrogen, are among the hormone therapies oncologists use to treat hormone-driven breast cancers in women.
See also CANCER TREATMENT OPTIONS AND DECISIONS; IMMUNOTHERAPY.