Hormone Therapy – Hormonal Treatments For Prostate Cancer

It was Nobel laureate Charles Brenton Huggins who found that prostate cancer cells in dogs stopped growing when the dog was castrated. Specifically, he worked on hampering the amount of testosterone that was available to the tumor, and he discovered that several of those tumors actually started to shrink. Huggins won the Nobel Prize for finding that some forms of prostate cancer depend on the hormones of the male reproductive system in order to grow and progress, and he may have thus started what is today known as hormonal treatments for prostate cancer.

The hormone testosterone is not directly responsible for prostate cancer progression, but it works with dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) from the adrenal glands to cause the prostate to produce DHT – dihydrotestosterone. It is DHT actually that the cancer feeds on to fuel its growth and advancement.

Hormonal treatments seek to interfere with this process at any point in order to deprive the cancer of its critical DHT. One procedure for instance is an orchiectomy, a surgical process that removes the testicles of the patient to stop the production of testosterone. A relatively safe procedure, and inexpensive, it immediately causes the cancerous tissue to begin to shrink in size. Another treatment however uses drugs instead of surgery.

It is understandable how men might be concerned about losing their testicles and thus being castrated in order to cure prostate cancer, and so they opt for antiandrogen medications that are actually more expensive yet incidentally perform precisely the same function without taking out the testicles. These drugs are also called androgen blockers.

In instances in which the cancer proves to be rather aggressive or stubborn, total androgen blockage may be considered as a necessary approach to treating the disease. Also known as TAB, this procedure uses a combination of the two types of hormonal treatments that there are (surgery and medications) in order to achieve an instance in which there are no hormones at all in the body available for the cancer to feed off of. Most times the cancer does regress this way.

The challenge with hormonal treatments is that they rarely cure prostate cancer.   Hormone therapy may be used against the disease in early stages to cause the prostate cancer tumor to shrink so that prostatectomy or radiation treatment can be used to cure the condition; but in many instances, it is saved for treatment of advanced disease to slow its progression. And when hormonal therapy does not work, chemotherapy is usually brought into play.

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