What is hormonal therapy?

Hormonal therapy is a treatment that corrects hormone levels by adjusting them up or down. Hormones are part of your endocrine system and act as chemical messengers in your body to control different bodily functions. For example, insulin is a hormone that helps regulate your metabolism and how your body uses food for energy. 

Your doctor may prescribe hormonal therapy to increase hormone levels that are too low. Hormonal therapy can also block hormones or remove the source of hormones when their levels are too high. 

Hormonal therapy is only one method used to treat many diseases and conditions. Discuss all of your   treatments with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.  

Types of hormonal therapy

The types of hormonal therapy include:

  • Hormone replacement involves adding hormones to the body when levels are too low. The hormone is a prescribed medication that can be delivered in the form of a pill or other substance, such as a gel or patch.
  • Hormone blocking is therapy designed to block or decrease the actions of hormones. This also involves taking medications.
  • Hormone source removal is the removal of the source of excessive hormone production with surgery or radiation. This may include removal of an entire gland, such as the thyroid. In this case, you will also need hormone replacement to provide a normal level of hormones in the body. 

Why is hormonal therapy used? 

Your doctor may recommend hormonal therapy to treat certain diseases and conditions of the endocrine system including:

  • Addison’s disease, which is decreased production of adrenal hormones. Adrenal hormones help regulate your body’s water and salt balance, blood pressure, and stress response.
  • Birth control. Hormone-mediated birth control is a combination of synthetic progesterone and estrogen.
  • Cancers that depend on hormones to grow, such as prostate cancer and certain types of breast cancers
  • Certain cancers that require removal of all or part of a gland such as the thyroid
  • Diabetes, which is decreased production of insulin that results in an inability of the body to properly use sugar for energy
  • Hyperaldosteronism, which is increased production of the hormone aldosterone. Your doctor may manage hyperaldosteronism due to overactive adrenal glands with hormone blocking therapy. Treatment of hyperaldosteronism caused by an adrenal adenoma (tumor) may include removal of the adrenal gland.
  • Hyperinsulinemia, or high insulin, caused by a tumor in the pancreas
  • Hypoparathyroidism, or underactive parathyroid. Parathyroid hormones help regulate calcium in your body.
  • Hyperparathyroidism, or overactive parathyroid. Certain people with few or no symptoms may receive hormone blocking therapy. Doctors generally use surgery to treat hyperparathyroidism due to a noncancerous adenoma or enlarged parathyroid glands in anyone younger than 50 years. 
  • Hypopituitarism, or underactive pituitary. Pituitary hormones help regulate growth, blood pressure, and reproduction.
  • Hyperpituitarism, or overactive pituitary. Doctors usually use surgery to treat hyperpituitarism caused by hormone-secreting tumors of the pituitary gland. Some pituitary tumors do not produce hormones (nonsecretory). These tumors tend to cause low levels of hormones, but your doctor may still recommend removal.
  • Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. Thyroid hormones help regulate your metabolism and how you use energy.
  • Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid. Your doctor may treat hyperthyroidism with blocking therapy. However, treatment of hyperthyroidism may include thyroid gland removal for thyroid nodules, thyroid cancer, and when thyroid-blocking medications do not work.
  • Hypogonadism, or low levels of sex hormones, including low testosterone in men
  • Infertility. Hormonal therapy can stimulate the release of eggs from the ovaries in women. Hormonal therapy is also used for some causes of male infertility.
  • Menopause. Hormone replacement therapy is sometimes used to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause.
  • Transgender patients to block the unwanted secondary sexual characteristics