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Some cancers are influenced by hormones naturally produced within the body, so treatment is given to change the hormone levels. Some hormonal therapy| drugs are given as tablets, and some by injection.
Tamoxifen| and anastrozole| (Arimidex®) are commonly used hormonal therapy drugs, often given as part of the treatment for breast cancer|. They can make some women have symptoms similar to those of the menopause|. These can include vaginal soreness, dryness or discharge, shrinking of the vagina, and a reduced sex drive. However, some women have very few side effects, or none at all.
There are many other hormonal therapies, and these often cause side effects that may affect your sex drive, such as tiredness| or vaginal dryness.
A drug called goserelin| (Zoladex®) is sometimes given to women who have not yet had their menopause. Zoladex® reduces the production of sex hormones by the ovaries, so periods stop and women have menopausal symptoms while they are taking this drug. Zoladex® can cause a reduction in sex drive. Usually Zoladex® is taken for two years and, once the drug is stopped, your sex drive will gradually return to normal. The other side effects will also disappear.
Hormonal therapy can affect a woman’s fertility|. Periods may become irregular or stop completely. The effects are usually temporary and normal fertility will come back in the months after the therapy is stopped. However, some hormonal therapy treatments bring on a permanent menopause.
In men with prostate cancer|, it can be helpful to lower testosterone levels. This may be done by giving tablets or injections, or by removing the testicles.
These treatments may reduce your sex drive, and if and when you do feel like sex, you may not be able to get or keep an erection. You may also notice that you produce less semen, need to shave less often and have less muscle strength. These side effects will often disappear once treatment is finished.
Some men having hormonal therapy treatments may develop breast swelling and tenderness. A man whose testicles have been removed may feel less masculine. However, neither the operation nor hormonal therapy will make you feminine, as some men fear. If you feel it would help you, sometimes false testicles can be used to give the appearance and feel of normal testicles.
Hormonal therapy will affect a man’s fertility by reducing sex drive and making it difficult to get an erection. These effects usually disappear once the treatment has finished. If your testicles are removed you will be infertile. We have information about cancer treatment and fertility| and the the commonly used hormonal therapy drugs|.
Content last reviewed: 1 October 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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