Hormone Therapy for Ovarian Cancer
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2023 | Last updated: April 2023
Treatment for ovarian cancer usually includes several forms of treatment. This helps to attack the cancer in different ways. Treatment can vary depending on your health, any other health conditions you have, the type and stage of your cancer, and your personal choices.
Hormone therapy is one kind of therapy that may be used to treat ovarian stromal tumors. Ovarian stromal tumors develop from the connective tissue cells that hold the ovary together. These cells also produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone.1,2
Treatment of ovarian stromal tumors usually involves surgery for early-stage tumors, while treatment for advanced stromal tumors often includes surgery and chemotherapy.1,2
For people who cannot tolerate chemotherapy but still want treatment, hormone therapy may be used. It can also be used if the ovarian stromal tumor recurs (comes back after treatment).2
How does hormone therapy work?
Hormone therapy is the use of hormones or hormone-blocking drugs to fight cancer. These drugs can either block enzymes and hormones or switch off hormones.1
Hormones like estrogen and progesterone can encourage cancer cell growth. Hormone therapy helps keep these hormones turned off or reduces their activity to help minimize cancer cell growth and potentially shrink tumors.1
What hormone therapies are used for ovarian cancer?
There are 3 main groups of hormone therapies used to treat ovarian cancer:1
- LHRH agonists, also called GnRH agonists
- Certain selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs)
- Aromatase inhibitors
LHRH agonists are drugs that stop the ovaries from making estrogen and progesterone. Drugs in this class can include Zoladex® (goserelin) and Lupron® (leuprolide).1 Depending on the exact drug and dose, injections of these drugs may be given every 1 to 3 months.1,3
Selective estrogen receptor modulators
Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) may be used to treat stromal tumors. In many body tissues, SERMs work as anti-estrogen drugs, stopping estrogen in the body from encouraging cancer cell growth. In other tissues of the body, it can act as a weak estrogen. Tamoxifen is one anti-estrogen SERM drug that may be used to treat ovarian stromal tumors.1
Aromatase inhibitors block an enzyme called aromatase, which changes other hormones in the body to estrogen in post-menopausal women. These drugs may be used to treat certain stromal tumors that have recurred and some low-grade serous carcinomas. Drugs in this class include Femara® (letrozole), Arimidex® (anastrozole), and Aromasin® (exemestane).1
What are the possible side effects of hormone therapy?
Side effects of hormone therapy can depend on which specific drug you are taking but may include:1
- Menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness
- Weakened bones
- Increased risk of blood clots
- Joint and muscle pain
These are not all the possible side effects of hormone therapy. Talk to your doctor about what to expect with the specific drug you are taking or if you experience any changes that concern you during treatment with hormone therapy.
Things to know about hormone therapy
Hormone therapy is not right for everyone. Talk with your doctor about whether it is right for your cancer and whether it might be an option for you.
Off-label use of drugs is common in cancer treatment, and this includes hormone therapy. If a drug is given “off-label,” this means that the drug is being prescribed for a condition for which it was not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is legal and a common practice for treating various forms of cancer.4
Before beginning treatment with hormone therapy, talk to your doctor about any other health issues you have. Also tell your doctor about any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.