Hormone therapy for endometrial cancer
This type of treatment uses hormones or hormone-blocking drugs to fight cancer. It’s not the same as the hormone therapy given to treat the symptoms of menopause (menopausal hormone therapy).
Hormone treatment for endometrial cancer can include:
- Progestins – which are the main hormone treatment used
- Luteinizing hormone releasing hormone agonists
- Aromatase inhibitors
The main hormone treatment for endometrial cancer uses progesterone or similar drugs (called progestins). The 2 most commonly used progestins are medroxyprogesterone acetate (Provera®, which can be given as an injection or as a pill) and megestrol acetate (Megace®, which is given as a pill or liquid). These drugs slow the growth of endometrial cancer cells. Side effects can include hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain (from fluid retention and an increased appetite), and worsening of depression. Progestins can cause increased blood sugar levels in women with diabetes. Rarely, serious blood clots can happen.
Sometimes endometrial hyperplasia and early endometrial cancers can be treated with an intrauterine device that contains levonorgestrel, a progestin. This may be combined with another hormone drug, such as medroxyprogesterone acetate or a luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone agonist (see below).
Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen drug often used to treat breast cancer, may also be used to treat advanced or recurrent endometrial cancer. The goal of tamoxifen therapy is to prevent any estrogens circulating in the woman's body from stimulating growth of the cancer cells. Even though tamoxifen may prevent estrogen from nourishing the cancer cells, it acts like a weak estrogen in other areas of the body. It does not cause bone loss, but it can cause hot flashes and vaginal dryness. People taking tamoxifen also have an increased risk of serious blood clots in the leg.
Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone agonists
Most women with endometrial cancer have had their ovaries removed as a part of treatment. In others, radiation treatments have made their ovaries inactive. This reduces the production of estrogen and may also slow the growth of the cancer. Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone agonists (LHRH agonists) are a way to lower estrogen levels in women who still have functioning ovaries. These drugs switch off estrogen production by the ovaries in women who are premenopausal.
Examples of GNRH agonists include goserelin (Zoladex®) and leuprolide (Lupron®). These drugs are injected every 1 to 3 months. Side effects can include any of the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. They can also cause muscle and joint aches. If they are taken for a long time (years), these drugs can weaken bones (sometimes leading to osteoporosis). These drugs are also called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GNRH) agonists.
Even after the ovaries are removed (or are not functioning), estrogen is still made in fat tissue. This becomes the body's main source of estrogen. Drugs called aromatase inhibitors can stop this estrogen from being formed and lower estrogen levels even further. Examples of aromatase inhibitors include letrozole (Femara®), anastrozole (Arimidex®), and exemestane (Aromasin®). These drugs are most often used to treat breast cancer, but may be helpful in treating endometrial cancer, too. Side effects can include joint and muscle pain as well as hot flashes. If they are taken for a long time (years), these drugs can weaken bones (sometimes leading to osteoporosis). These drugs are still being studied for use in treating endometrial cancer..
Last Medical Review: 02/10/2016
Last Revised: 02/29/2016