Hormone therapy lowers levels of testosterone and other male sex hormones (androgens). As a result, many men treated with hormone therapy experience side effects like impotence and a decreased desire to have sex. Many men treated with hormones also have side effects similar to those that women experience during menopause, including:
- Hot flashes with severe sweating
- Growth of breast tissue
- Weight gain
- Loss of muscle mass
- Osteopenia or osteoporosis (bone thinning), which can cause broken bones
- Anemia (an abnormally low level of red blood cells), which can make you feel tired
The risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart attacks is also higher in men treated with hormone therapy.
Your doctor can help prevent or treat many of these side effects using the following approaches:
- Antidepressants, a drug called gabapentin (Neurontin), and progesterone such as megestrol acetate (Megace, Ovaban, Pallace) may treat hot flashes.
- A small amount of radiation therapy to the breasts may prevent them from growing, although this is not usually done with standard hormone therapy.
- Medications called bisphosphonates, such as alendronate (Fosamax) and zoledronic acid (Zometa), as well as another type of treatment called denosumab (Prolia) may treat osteoporosis.
- Antidepressants and counseling may treat depression.
- Exercise may stop weight gain, prevent bone and muscle mass loss, and reduce fatigue.
Hormone therapy: Removing the male hormone or its effects
If you have a medium or high risk cancer, your EBRT might be combined with androgen deprivation therapy or hormone therapy. This is treatment with drugs designed to remove or minimise the effect of the male hormone, testosterone, on the body. Hormone therapy may begin 3 to 8 months before radiotherapy and may continue for 2 or more years.
The lack of male hormone can cause cancer cell death, making the job of radiotherapy easier. Hormone therapy alone is never a curative treatment.
This type of combined therapy has been shown to improve cure rates and survival in men with medium and high risk prostate cancer(1). However as male hormones have many functions in the body, removing them will cause side effects. These include hot flushes, breast enlargement, loss of libido and loss of erectile function (impotence), lack of energy, mood changes (depression) and weight gain. Over the long term, osteoporosis (weakening of the bones) may be a concern. Many doctors now recommend a bone density scan every 1-2 years to monitor changes. Vitamin D and calcium supplements are advised for men on hormone therapy.
Hormone therapy used to increase the effectiveness of radiotherapy is usually temporary, and these side effects diminish with time.
For more information on hormone therapy please read: PHIP 5
Prostate cancer support groups may prove helpful in contacting other men with prostate cancer.
1. Michel B, et al. External irradiation with or without long-term androgen suppression for prostate cancer with high metastatic risk: 10-year results of an EORTC randomised study. The Lancet Oncology, 2010;11(11):1066–73.
National Cancer Helpline: 13 11 20
This information sheet is not intended to take the place of medical advice. Information on prostate disease is constantly being updated. We have made every effort to ensure that information was current at the time of production; however your GP or specialist may provide you with new or different information that is more appropriate to your needs.
© Repatriation General Hospital, 2017.