What is hormonal therapy?

Hormones are made in the body and help control many body functions. The hormones oestrogen and progesterone can affect how cells in the womb lining grow. Hormonal therapy drugs can help shrink or control a womb cancer.

When is hormonal therapy used for womb cancer?

Your cancer doctor may suggest hormonal therapy if you:

  • have advanced womb cancer
  • have womb cancer that has come back after treatment (recurrent cancer)
  • cannot have surgery or radiotherapy because of other health issues.

The aim of treatment is to try to shrink the cancer and control symptoms.

Some younger women with stage 1, grade 1 womb cancer may be offered hormone therapy instead of or to delay having a hysterectomy. This is called fertility sparing treatment (see below). It is sometimes an option for women who want the chance to have children in future.

Hormonal therapy for advanced or recurrent womb cancer

The main hormonal treatment for advanced or recurrent womb cancer is progesterone. You are most likely to have it as a tablet. Or your GP or practice nurse may give it to you as an injection. The most common types of progesterone are:

Other hormonal treatments are sometimes used, such as tamoxifen and letrozole.

Hormonal treatment for low risk early stage womb cancer

Fertility-sparing treatment

An operation to remove the womb and ovaries is the standard treatment for most women with womb cancer. But some women may have fertility-sparing treatment instead. This is for women who want the chance to have children in future. It is only suitable for a few women with stage 1, grade 1 womb cancer.

The treatment usually involves taking daily progesterone tablets. Less commonly, progesterone can be given directly into the womb through a hormone-releasing intrauterine device (sometimes called an IUD or coil).

This treatment is only done in a few specialist centres. So you may have to travel further to have it. You will have regular checks during and after treatment. This is because with this type of treatment, there is a higher risk that the cancer may not respond to treatment or may come back. You will need a hysterectomy:

  • if the cancer does not respond to hormone treatment
  • after you have had children.

Your specialist doctor can explain the possible risks and benefits of fertility-sparing treatment.

Side effects of hormonal therapy for womb cancer

The most common side effects of progesterone are:

The side effects can be mild and you are not likely to get all of them. They usually get better after 3 to 4 weeks. Let your doctor or nurse know if you are having troublesome side effects.