Men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer may find their healthcare providers recommending a treatment known as androgen deprivation therapy. This hormonal treatment is meant to reduce the levels of male hormones in the body. These hormones, also called androgens, are specifically targeted to prevent them from affecting prostate cancer cells.
Androgens are known to stimulate the growth of prostate cancer cells in certain forms of the disease. By suppressing these hormones, it is possible to stop or slow the growth of prostate cancer for a time. While this form of treatment has its benefits, it is not considered a cure for prostate cancer.
Hormone therapy is generally used for four specific reasons:
- To extend life – If prostate cancer has spread to the point it cannot be treated by surgery or radiation, hormone therapy may slow its further progression. This, in turn, can extend life.
- To combat recurrences – While this therapy won’t cure recurrent cancer, it can help slow its progression. This can be especially important when recurrences occur.
- As a combination treatment – Some clinicians will use androgen deprivation therapy in conjunction with other treatments in high risk cases. For example, it may be introduced along with surgery and radiation to help improve outcomes for patients.
- To shrink tumors – In some cases, hormone therapy is used before other treatments to “starve” and shrink tumors. This can, for example, help make surgery more feasible. It may also improve the chances of other therapies being successful.
It is estimated that 180,000 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in the coming year. Hormone therapy may play a role in the treatment plan for some of these men. Men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer are urged to talk to their doctors about all treatment options. The best recommendations will come from a doctor with direct knowledge about a patient’s unique circumstances.