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What to Know About Hormone Therapy for Uterine Cancer

Hormone therapy may be used to treat uterine cancer. Hormones are chemicals in your blood. They control how cells grow. Sometimes hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, can cause cancer cells in the uterus to grow. The goal of hormone therapy in cancer treatment is to stop the cancer from getting the hormones it needs to grow. Without the hormones, the cancer cells may shrink and die. Because hormones travel through your blood and affect your whole body, it’s called a systemic treatment.

The two hormones most involved in uterine cancer are the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Different types of cancer cells respond differently to these two hormones. Your doctor may test samples of the cancer cells from your biopsy or surgery to see how they respond to the hormones. This helps your doctor learn if any of the hormone therapies might work for you. Progesterone and anti-estrogen medications can be used to treat uterine cancer.

Hormone therapy may be used for treating low-grade endometrial stromal sarcoma. This is cancer that starts in the stromal tissue, which connects the lining of the uterus (called the endometrium) to the wall of the uterus. In some of these cases, hormone therapy can help shrink or completely kill the uterine sarcoma.

Hormone therapy is also sometimes used in non-sarcoma endometrial cancers that are high risk or that have spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body or recurred after previous treatment. Your doctor may suggest hormone therapy if surgery is not possible. Women who are still interested in childbearing and have low grade endometrial cancer can talk with their doctor about progesterone treatments and delayed surgery.  

The doctor who treats you with hormone therapy is called an oncologist or a gynecological oncologist. It is recommended that you receive your treatment from a gynecologic oncologist, a subspecialist in the diagnosis and treatment of gynecologic cancer.

If you are taking drugs for hormone therapy, you will need to know what they are and the common side effects you should watch for. Your doctor and nurse will give you the details on your treatment.

You may have hormone therapy alone for advanced stages of cancer instead of chemotherapy. Or you may have it after one or more of these treatments:

  • Chemotherapy

  • Radiation

At this time, doctors do not often suggest hormone therapy as a treatment for most types of uterine sarcoma. Your doctor may recommend it if you have a low-grade stromal sarcoma. If this applies to you, you may have hormone therapy:

  • After you've had surgery. In this case, the goal is to help ensure that all the cancer cells have been killed. Treatment after surgery is called adjuvant hormone therapy.

  • If you have already been treated for uterine sarcoma, and it has come back.