Hormonal therapy for ovarian cancer

Hormonal therapy is sometimes used to treat ovarian cancer. It is a treatment that adds, blocks or removes hormones. Hormones are substances that control some body functions, including how cells act and grow. Changing the levels of hormones or blocking certain hormones can slow the growth and spread of ovarian cancer cells. Drugs, surgery or radiation therapy can be used to change hormone levels or block their effects.

You may have hormonal therapy to:

  • treat some types of ovarian cancer when they are advanced or have recurred
  • control cancer cells left behind after surgery (if you cannot have chemotherapy for some reason)

Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan your hormonal therapy. You may also receive other treatments.

Hormonal therapies used for ovarian cancer

The following are hormonal therapies used to treat ovarian cancer.

Luteinizing-hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonists

LHRH agonists turn off estrogen production by the ovaries. They are used to lower estrogen levels in women who have not reached menopause (premenopausal). LHRH agonists include goserelin (Zoladex) and leuprolide (Lupron, Lupron Depot, Eligard).

Anti-estrogens

Anti-estrogens block estrogen from getting to the cancer cell. Tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Tamofen) is an anti-estrogen that is used to treat ovarian cancer.

Aromatase inhibitors

Aromatase inhibitors are drugs that block an enzyme called aromatase. Aromatase turns other hormones into estrogen in women who have gone through menopause (post-menopausal). Aromatase inhibitors lower the level of estrogen in post-menopausal women and include:

  • letrozole (Femara)
  • anastrozole (Arimidex)
  • exemestane (Aromasin)

Side effects

Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for ovarian cancer, but everyone’s experience is different. Some women have many side effects. Other women have few or none at all.

If you develop side effects, they can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after hormonal therapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after hormonal therapy. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.

Side effects of hormonal therapy will depend mainly on the type of hormonal therapy, the dose of a drug or combination of drugs, and your overall health. Some common side effects of hormonal therapy for ovarian cancer are:

Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from hormonal therapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.

Information about specific cancer drugs

Details on specific drugs change regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.

Questions to ask about hormonal therapy

Find out more about hormonal therapy and side effects of hormonal therapy. To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about hormonal therapy.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Ovarian Cancer. 2014: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003130-pdf.pdf.
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology. Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Peritoneal Cancer. 2016: http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/ovarian-cancer/view-all.
  • Brown J, Jhingran A, Deavers M . Stromal tumors of the ovary. Raghavan D, Blanke CD, Honson DH, et al (eds.). Textbook of Uncommon Cancer. 4th ed. Wiley Blackwell; 2012: 36: 508-518.
  • Cannistra SA, Gershenson DM, Recht A . Ovarian cancer, fallopian tube carcinoma, and peritoneal carcinoma. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 76: 1075-1099.
  • Eskander RN, Diaz-Montes TP, Vang R, Armstrong DK, Bristow RE . Borderline tumors and other rare epithelial tumors of the ovary. Raghavan D, Blanke CD, Honson DH, et al (eds.). Textbook of Uncommon Cancer. 4th ed. Wiley Blackwell; 2012: 35: 497-506.