Most people are familiar with the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the treatment of menopause symptoms. What many do not realize is that hormone replacement has widespread uses and it can be used to effectively treat many forms of hormonal imbalance, including hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid disease), polycystic ovary syndrome, low testosterone, and even some forms of breast cancer. Here’s an overview of some of the more common forms of hormone therapy.
Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer
Hormone therapy is sometimes used to shrink a tumor in the breast prior to surgery. Only women with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer are eligible for this type of treatment, which is designed to shrink the tumor to the point where it can be removed through a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy, which requires removing the entire breast. Common hormone treatments used to target breast cancer include tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors.
This type of hormone therapy is effective because some breast cancer cells are hormone-sensitive and contain hormone receptors that activate when hormones bind to them. These activated receptors then change how genes are expressed. Your doctor will need to perform a biopsy of the tumor to find out if it contains estrogen receptors or progesterone receptors. About 70% of breast cancers are estrogen-receptor positive and most of them also have progesterone receptors.
Hormone therapy may also be prescribed after breast cancer treatment and surgery to reduce the risk that the cancer will return.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a fairly common condition that affects a woman’s hormones, heart, blood vessels, menstrual cycle, and fertility. Most women with PCOS have high levels of male hormones, irregular periods, and small cysts in the ovaries. While the cause of the condition is unknown, it’s believed to involve many factors with hormonal imbalance serving as an underlying problem.
One of the most common treatments for PCOS is birth control medication that contains hormones, which works to control the menstrual cycle and reduce male hormone levels in the body.
All men experience a decline in testosterone levels starting at the age of 30. While this decline is natural, some men develop low testosterone for their age, which can result in a wide range of side effects like gynecomastia, lost muscle mass, stubborn weight gain, depression, irritability, and fatigue.
If low testosterone is confirmed through blood tests, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is often prescribed to restore normal hormone levels and treat the symptoms. There are many forms of testosterone replacement for men such as testosterone injections, tablets, pills, and gels.
Underactive thyroid disease (hypothyroidism) is a very common problem that affects more than 3 million people in the U.S. While the symptoms vary by person depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency, common symptoms include weight gain, sensitivity to cold, fatigue, muscle aches and stiffness, joint pain, memory problems, depression, puffiness, and dry skin. These symptoms will gradually worsen without treatment.
Hormone therapy is currently the only effective treatment for underactive thyroid disease. HRT involves replacing the thyroid hormone T4 and/or T3 to combat these side effects and restore healthy hormone levels.
Of course, menopause is the most well-known condition treated with hormone therapy. Hormone replacement is the only effective means of treating menopause symptoms while lowering the risk of osteoporosis for post-menopausal women.
There are many types of menopause hormone therapy. HRT may refer to estrogen-only therapy or estrogen/progesterone replacement. Estrogen replacement is a very effective means of treating all symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and sleep problems. While it became controversial after a study linking HRT to an increased risk of stroke and cancer in older men, recent research has found that hormone therapy is a safe and effective treatment option for many women when it is used for less than five years, or in women who are just starting menopause. Progesterone therapy is often used alongside estrogen therapy to reduce the risk of uterine cancer.
Estrogen therapy comes in many forms, including gel, pill, and patch. The type of hormone therapy prescribed depends on the symptoms. Systemic hormone therapy in pill or patch form can reduce hot flashes and the risk of osteoporosis. For women mostly concerned with vaginal symptoms and painful intercourse, creams, tablets, and rings can be used to limit the amount of hormone that enters the bloodstream.
Hormone replacement isn’t the right choice for everyone, but it is a safe and effective treatment option for many people suffering from hormonal imbalance. HRT should always be overseen by a hormone specialist to minimize side effects and risks. Hormonal imbalance is best diagnosed through a blood test that gives an overall look at hormone levels. If you suspect you have a hormonal imbalance, schedule an appointment to have your hormone levels tested and find out if hormone therapy is the right decision for you. You can learn more about hormone therapy here – Catch the latest articles here.