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Cancer of Unknown Primary: Hormone Therapy 

What is hormone therapy?

Natural hormones in the body can help certain kinds of cancer cells grow. Hormone therapy is used to change the way these hormones work. It can lower hormone levels or keep cancer cells from using them. Hormone therapy may be used to help stop a tumor from growing, shrink a tumor, or help you live longer.

When might hormone therapy be used for cancer of unknown primary?

If your healthcare provider thinks that your cancer of unknown primary (CUP) may be breast or prostate cancer, hormone therapy may be advised. This treatment can be used to stop hormones from allowing cancer cells to grow.

Hormone therapy can be done in different ways. For instance, surgery can be done to take out certain organs that make hormones, like the testicles. Or you may get medicines that change the way hormones work. Another option may be using radiation to damage organs that make hormones. For instance, radiation to the ovaries can stop estrogen from being made.

How is hormone therapy given for cancer of unknown primary?

Hormone therapy is often given as shots or pills. Sometimes surgery or radiation is used to keep certain organs from making hormones. These include the testicles and ovaries.

Some medicines limit the production of the female hormone estrogen or keep cancer cells from using it. This may help slow the growth of breast cancer cells. These medicines include:

  • Exemestane

  • Anastrazole

  • Letrozole

  • Tamoxifen

  • Toremifene

  • Fulvestrant

  • Leuprolide

  • Goserelin

For prostate cancer, medicines may either lower the testosterone level or keep cancer cells from using it to fuel tumor growth. These medicines include:

  • Leuprolide

  • Goserelin

  • Triptorelin

  • Histrelin

  • Anti-androgens, such as flutamide, bicalutamide, abiraterone, and enzalutamide

Your healthcare provider may test your cancer to see if hormone therapy might work.

Possible side effects from hormone therapy for cancer of unknown primary

Hormone therapy may cause side effects. These depend on the type of treatment you get or medicines you receive. Common side effects include:

  • Hot flashes

  • Vaginal dryness or discharge in women

  • Low red blood cell levels (anemia)

  • Trouble thinking and remembering

  • Weight gain

  • Nausea

  • Tiredness and fatigue

  • Depression

  • Muscle, bone, or joint pain and stiffness

  • Weak bones (osteoporosis)

  • Loss of interest in sex

Tell your healthcare provider about any side effects you have. There are often ways to ease them or keep them from getting worse.

Working with your healthcare provider

It's important to know which medicines you're taking. Write your medicines down, and ask your healthcare team how they work. You should also ask about what side effects they may cause. Ask your healthcare team about what signs to look for and when to call them. Know how to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.

It may be helpful to keep a journal of your side effects. Write down physical, mental, and emotional changes. A written list will make it easier for you to remember your questions when you go to your check-ups. It will also make it easier for you to work with your healthcare team to manage your side effects.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham
Online Medical Reviewer: Richard LoCicero MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
© 2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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