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What is androgen-deprivation therapy for prostate cancer?

Androgen deprivation therapy, also commonly known as “hormonal” therapy, is a treatment for prostate cancer. Prostate cancer uses the testosterone that our bodies make for many of its processes, such as growth and division. Androgen deprivation therapy stops the body from making testosterone, and can decrease levels by about 95 percent. This causes the prostate cancer cells to stop growing, and causes some of them to die. It is used mainly when patients are first diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer, but can also be used prior to prostatectomy or in conjunction with radiation therapies.

Dr. Marc B. Garnick, MD
Hematologist & Oncologist

Androgens, the family of male sex hormones that includes testosterone, function as a fuel for growth in normal development. However, they can also drive the development and progression of prostate cancer. Androgen-deprivation therapy, also called hormone therapy, can fight prostate cancer because it dramatically reduces levels of testosterone and other androgens. For example, a hormone drug called MDV3100 works by blocking testosterone from binding to the androgen receptor, which, in turn, prevents the receptor from entering a cell, binding to its DNA, turning on specific genes, and signaling the cell to grow. Ultimately, this process leads to cancer cell death, research shows.

Hormone therapy is a treatment option for men who:

  • have cancer that has spread beyond the prostate.
  • have cancer that is confined to the prostate but need to boost the effectiveness of radiation therapy or to shrink the size of the prostate before brachytherapy.
  • have a rising prostate specific antigen (PSA) after initial treatment with surgery or radiation therapy, indicating that the cancer may have recurred.

The side effects of anti-androgens used in the treatment of prostate cancer to prevent prostate cancer cell growth include:

  • hot flashes
  • impotence
  • decreased libido
  • breast tenderness and swelling
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • rarely, liver failure; liver function should be checked periodically

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.