Male sex hormones

Hormones are natural substances made by the glands and organs of the hormone system. They occur naturally in your body. Treatment for prostate cancer can affect the amount of sex hormones in your body. This can affect you in different ways.  

Cancer treatments and hormones

Hormones act as messengers and carry signals between one part of the body to another. There are many different types of hormones. They move through the body in the blood to certain cells and organs.

Some cancers or cancer treatments can lower the level of hormones the body produces.

They might do this by:

  • blocking the action of hormones
  • reducing the amount of the hormone the body makes

Sometimes, treatments can stop the body making a particular hormone altogether. Changes in hormone levels may be temporary or permanent.

The sex hormones are the type of hormone most commonly affected by prostate cancer and its treatment. Changes in the level of sex hormones in the body can cause particular symptoms.

The role of male sex hormones

Testosterone is the main sex hormone in men. Most testosterone is made in the testes (testicles). Small amounts are also made in your adrenal gland (in the kidney).

Testosterone has a role in:

  • sex drive (libido)
  • making sperm
  • muscle mass and strength
  • bone density

Treatments that can affect your sex hormones

Prostate cancer treatments can affect the amount of sex hormones in your body. They include:

  • hormone therapy
  • surgery
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy

Hormone therapy and male sex hormones

Hormone therapy is one of the main treatments for prostate cancer. They work by:

  • stopping the production of hormones in your body
  • blocking the action of hormones

Hormone treatments for prostate cancers include:

  • bicalutamide (Casodex)
  • goserelin (Zoladex)
  • degarelix (Firmagon)
  • abiraterone (Zytiga)

The hormone symptoms you have depend on which treatment you have.

Surgery and male sex hormones

Surgery to remove the testes is called an orchidectomy. 

In prostate cancer, stopping testosterone production can slow down or stop cancer cell growth. Most men have medicines to stop testosterone production rather than having their testicles removed.

Radiotherapy and male sex hormones

Radiotherapy uses radiation, usually x-rays, to destroy cancer cells.

The pelvis is the area between your hip bones and contains organs including the testicles and prostate. Radiotherapy to this area of the body can affect sex hormone levels.

Chemotherapy and male sex hormones

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs circulate throughout the body in the bloodstream.

Chemotherapy can cause some damage to healthy cells. There isn’t much information about how chemotherapy affects testosterone levels.

It can make you tired, and you may lose interest in sex. It might be more difficult to have or maintain an erection.

Symptoms of low testosterone levels

Low testosterone levels can cause:

  • hot flushes
  • changes in memory or mood
  • changes to weight and muscle mass
  • erection problems (erectile dysfunction)
  • breast swelling
  • higher risk of other diseases such as heart disease, diabetes or osteoporosis

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