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.

If you have stage 1, grade 1 womb cancer and plan to have children in future you may be offered hormone therapy instead of or to delay having a hysterectomy. This is called fertility sparing treatment (see below).

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 with womb cancers. But you may have fertility-sparing treatment instead if you had planned to have children in future. This is only suitable for 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.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our womb cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Colombo N et al ESMO-ESGO-ESTRO Consensus Conference on Endometrial Cancer: diagnosis, treatment and follow-up Annals of Oncology 27: 16–41, 2016.

    Sundar S et al BGCS uterine cancer guidelines: Recommendations for practice European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology 213 (2017) 71–97.

    RCOG Fertility Sparing Treatments in Gynaecological Cancers 2013.

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Nick Reed, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Content under review

Due to the pandemic, there have been delays in us updating this information as quickly as we would have wanted. Our team is working hard to put this right.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.