Endocrine therapy is a way of treating conditions such as cancer using hormones. Also known as hormone therapy, it involves adjusting the levels of certain hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, and insulin, or altering how they work.

Doctors may add or remove hormones or prevent the body from producing specific types.

In this article, we take a look at what conditions doctors use endocrine therapy to treat and what types are available. We also examine the side effects and outlook for people receiving this form of treatment.

A group of surgeons. -2Share on Pinterest
skaman306/Getty Images

Endocrine therapy is a form of treatment that involves adjusting a person’s hormone levels or altering how their hormones work. It is a very broad category of medicine, with people receiving it for many different reasons.

Other names for endocrine therapy include hormone therapy, hormonal therapy, and hormone treatment.

Hormones are chemicals that the endocrine system produces to help regulate many biological processes. Examples include estrogen, testosterone, and insulin.

There are several different types of endocrine therapy. They may involve:

  • taking synthetic forms of hormones
  • using drugs or surgery to prevent the body from producing certain hormones
  • taking medications to stop hormones from working in the way they normally would

Having too many or too few of a particular hormone can result in a number of symptoms, depending on the hormone involved. Many different conditions can lead to hormone imbalances.

Some diseases also respond to particular hormones, and reducing the levels of these hormones can slow the disease.

Endocrine therapy is typically a treatment option for people with certain forms of cancer.

There are several types of cancer that need particular hormones to grow. These include some forms of breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Reducing the levels of these hormones can help slow or stop these cancers from growing. In other cases, endocrine therapy can help lessen the symptoms of these cancers.

Whether or not endocrine therapy is an option depends on the type of cancer a person has and what other treatment they have received so far.

For instance, a person may receive endocrine therapy after having surgery to reduce the risk of cancer returning.

Endocrine therapy may also help reduce the size of a tumor to make another form of treatment, such as radiation therapy, easier or more effective.

Doctors may also choose to use endocrine therapy if a person is unable to have other forms of treatment, such as surgery.

Aside from cancer, endocrine therapy can also help people manage diabetes and menopause. In these conditions, people often have lower levels of certain hormones.

Learn more about hormone replacement therapy for menopause.

Cancer resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for cancer, visit our dedicated hub.

Was this helpful?

The potential side effects of endocrine therapy depend on the type of therapy the person is receiving. A person’s sex may also affect what can occur.

Possible side effects include:

People receiving endocrine therapy may also have a higher risk of other health problems, including fractures, other cancers, and cardiovascular disease.

Transgender people should be sure to discuss the possible effects of endocrine therapy with their cancer care team.

LGBTQIA+ resources

To discover more evidence-based health information and resources for LGBTQIA+ individuals, visit our dedicated hub.

Was this helpful?

There are many different types of endocrine therapy. When it comes to treating cancer, the aims of endocrine therapy may include:

  • preventing the body from producing hormones linked with the cancer
  • stopping hormones from connecting to cancer cells and helping them grow
  • changing hormones so they work in a different way

The way in which people receive endocrine therapy falls under three main categories:

Oral drugs

Endocrine therapy may come in the form of a pill, capsule, or liquid, which patients can often take at home.

The type of drug that a person might take will depend on the cancer that they have.

Examples of oral endocrine therapy drugs include:

Injectable drugs

Some people may receive endocrine therapy through injections into an arm, leg, hip, or their belly. They may receive these at the hospital, a doctor’s office, or home.

Again, the type of drug and number of injections a person may need will depend on the cancer they have.

Examples of injectable endocrine therapy drugs include:


Surgical procedures to remove organs that produce certain hormones can be a form of endocrine therapy.

A procedure called an oophorectomy removes the ovaries and may help with forms of breast cancer that respond to estrogen.

Similarly, a procedure called an orchiectomy involves the removal of the testicles. This helps lower the levels of male sex hormones that can drive prostate cancer.

Many people undergoing endocrine therapy will have a form of cancer. There are many options when it comes to seeking support and community for people with this disease, along with their families and friends.

Some options include:

  • the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Survivors Network, which provides a community for people to share their experiences and advice
  • the National Cancer Institute’s Support Services Locator, which is a database of over 100 organizations providing different types of support
  • CaringBridge, which is a nonprofit website that helps people to stay connected with others during their health journey

Learn more about coping with a cancer diagnosis.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about endocrine therapy.

Is endocrine therapy the same as chemotherapy?

Endocrine therapy is not the same as chemotherapy. Endocrine therapy aims to alter the levels and effects of hormones in a person’s body, while chemotherapy aims to stop the growth of cancer cells.

How long does endocrine therapy last?

Different forms of endocrine therapy last for different lengths of time, but many are long-term treatments. Some courses of drugs can last for up to 10 years. The effects of surgery are permanent.

Can other drugs interfere with hormone therapy?

In some cases, there are drugs that may reduce the effectiveness of hormone therapy.

For instance, a number of antidepressants, among other drugs, block an enzyme that the body needs to process tamoxifen. This may slow down how the body processes tamoxifen, reducing its effectiveness.

People who are discussing hormone therapy should always inform their doctor of any other medications they are currently taking.

Endocrine therapy is a broad category of treatment that aims to alter the levels or effects of hormones in a person’s body.

Doctors often use endocrine therapy to treat forms of cancer that respond to particular hormones. Examples include some types of breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Endocrine therapy can take the form of oral medication, injectable medication, and surgery. Often, these forms of treatment can take a long time, and the outlook typically depends on the condition that the person is treating.