Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond
Hormones are chemical substances produced by glands in the body, which enter the
bloodstream and cause effects in other tissues. For example, the hormone testosterone
is made in the testicles and is responsible for male characteristics such as deepening
voice and increased body hair. The use of hormone therapy to treat cancer
is based on the observation that receptors for specific hormones that are needed
for cell growth are on the surface of some tumor cells. Hormone therapy can
work by stopping the production of a certain hormone, blocking hormone receptors,
or substituting chemically similar agents for the active hormone, which cannot be
used by the tumor cell. The different hormone therapy types are categorized
by their function and/or the type of hormone that is effected.
Adrenal Steroid Inhibitors
This type of hormone therapy interferes with the hormones produced by the adrenal
gland. The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys. The outer
portion of the adrenal gland (the adrenal cortex) produces hormones called corticosteroids.
When these corticosteroids are blocked from being made, they are not able to signal
the body to produce other hormones such as estrogen, androgens, glucocorticoids,
and mineralocorticoids. The resulting decrease of estrogens and androgens
interferes with the stimulation of cancer growth in tumors that are influenced by
- aminoglutethimide, mitotane
Androgens are hormones such as testosterone and androsterone that produce or stimulate
the development of male characteristics. In women, these hormones can be converted
into estrogen. Androgens as cancer therapy are used to oppose the activity
of estrogen, thereby slowing the growth of cancer.
- fluoxymesterone, testosterone, testolactone
Antiandrogens are substances that block the effects of testosterone. Cancer of the
prostate depends on the male hormone testosterone for its growth. If the amount
of testosterone is reduced it is possible to slow down or shrink the cancer.
- bicalutamide, flutamide, nilutamide
Antiestrogens bind to estrogen receptor site on cancer cells thus blocking estrogen
from going into the cancer cell. This interferes with cell growth and eventually
leads to cell death.
Aromatase inhibitors block the enzyme aromatase (found in the body's muscle, skin,
breast and fat), which is used to convert androgens (hormones produced by the adrenal
glands) into estrogen. In the absence of estrogen, tumors dependent on this hormone
for growth will shrink.
- anastrazole, exemestane, letrozole
Estrogens are female hormone used to compete for androgen receptor sites, which
decreases the influence of androgens (testosterone and androsterone) on prostate
- DES(diethylstilbestrol), estradiol(estrace), premarin
Lutenizing Hormone-Releasing Hormone (LHRH) Agonists
LHRH agonists work by telling the pituitary gland located in the brain to stop producing
leutinizing hormone, which (in men) stimulates the testicles to release testosterone
and (in women) stimulates the ovaries to release estrogen. The drug does not
have a direct effect on the cancer, only on the testicles or ovaries.
The resulting lack of testosterone (in men) and estrogen (in women) interferes with
stimulating cell growth in testosterone or estrogen dependent cancer cells.
- goserelin acetate, leuprolide acetate, triptorelin pamoate
Progestational agents are a man made form of the female hormone progesterone.
It has anti-estrogen effects.
- medroxyprogesterone acetate, hydroxyprogesterone caproate, megestrol, progestins
Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs)
The term "SERMs" describes drugs that act like estrogen in some organs and as an
anti-estrogen in others. For example: Raloxifene acts like estrogen to prevent
bone loss and improve lipid profiles (decreases total and LDL cholesterol but does
not raise triglycerides), but it has the potential to block some estrogen effects
such as those that lead to breast cancer and uterine cancer.
Other chemicals, such as amifostine, dexrazoxane, and mesna, are known as chemoprotective
agents. These drugs may be used with certain chemotherapy programs to
reduce or minimize the effects of chemotherapy on the body.
More Chemotherapy Information:
Protocols - How Chemotherapy Works
How Chemotherapy Is Given
How Doctors Decide Which Chemotherapy Drugs To Give
How Long Chemotherapy Is Given
How To Tell If Chemotherapy Is Working
Cancer Cells & Chemotherapy
Short & Long Term Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Cancer Clinical Trials
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