Hormone therapy for cancer of the uterus

Hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone are substances that are produced naturally in the body. They help control the growth and activity of cells.

Some cancers of the uterus depend on oestrogen and/or progesterone to grow. These are known as hormone-dependent or hormone-sensitive cancers and can sometimes be treated with hormone therapy.

Hormone therapy may be recommended for uterine cancer that has spread or come back (recurred), particularly if it is a low-grade cancer. It is also sometimes offered as the first treatment if surgery has not been done (e.g. when a young woman with early, low-grade uterine cancer chooses not to have a hysterectomy because she wants to have children, or if a woman is too unwell for surgery).

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How hormone therapy is given

The main hormone therapy for women with hormone-dependent cancer of the uterus is progesterone that has been produced in a laboratory. Progesterone is available:

  • in tablet form (usually either medroxyprogesterone or megestrol)
  • as an injection given by your GP or nurse
  • or through a hormone-releasing intrauterine device (IUD) called a Mirena, which is fitted into the uterus by your doctor (if you have not had a hysterectomy).

Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of the different methods.

Side effects

The common side effects of progesterone treatment include:

  • breast tenderness
  • headaches
  • tiredness
  • nausea
  • menstrual changes
  • bloating

In high doses, progesterone may increase appetite and cause weight gain. If you have an IUD, it may move out of place and need to be refitted by your doctor.

This information was last reviewed in March 2019
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