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Hormone therapy

You might have hormone therapy if your cancer cells have hormone receptors. Find out what hormone therapy is, how you have it and the possible side effects.

How it works

Hormones are substances that occur naturally in the body. They control the growth and activity of cells.

Some cancer cells have hormone receptors. Hormones can bind to these receptors and trigger the cancer to grow.

Hormone therapy works by lowering the amount of hormones in the body, or by blocking the receptors on the cells. 

Why you have it

You are most likely to have hormone therapy if the tests on your cancer cells (from the biopsy sample) show hormone receptors. Cancers that have hormone receptors include:

  • breast cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • womb cancer
  • kidney cancer

Hormone therapy can help to control the growth of the cancer, and relieve symptoms. Your doctor will talk to you about your treatment and why they have suggested hormone therapy.

Types of hormone therapy

There are different types of hormone therapy. The drug you might have depends on the type of hormone receptors found on the surface of your cancer cells. Some examples of hormone therapy include:

  • anastrozole (Arimidex)
  • letrozole (Femara)
  • goserelin (Zoladex)
  • leuprorelin (Prostap)
  • flutamide (Drogenil)
  • bicalutamide (Casodex)

How you have it

You usually have hormone therapy as tablets or injections. Your doctor or nurse will tell you more about this.

Taking your tablets

You must take tablets according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

Speak to your pharmacist if you have problems swallowing the tablets.

Whether you have a full or an empty stomach can affect how much of a drug gets into your bloodstream.

You should take the right dose, no more or less.

Talk to your specialist or advice line before you stop taking a cancer drug.

Injection into your muscle

Some drugs are injected into a muscle (intramuscular injections), usually in your buttocks or upper thigh.

You might have stinging or a dull ache for a short time after this type of injection, but they don't usually hurt much.

Injections under the skin (subcutaneous)

The skin of the abdomen, thigh and upper arm are the most common areas for giving subcutaneous chemotherapy. You may be able to give these injections yourself.

The video below shows you how to give an injection just under your skin (subcutaneously). It's important to wash your hands well before giving yourself an injection.

Side effects

Hormone therapy does not usually cause bad side effects. The side effects vary depending on the particular hormone therapy drug you have.

General side effects include:

  • tiredness
  • headaches
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • joint and muscle pain
  • hot flushes

You can read about the most common side effects in men and women in our hormone therapy section.

Last reviewed: 
18 Oct 2017
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