Thoughts on Better Aging

Testosterone and Early Prostate Cancer

August 26th, 2014

Study shows early prostate patients don’t need to block testosterone and sacrifice their quality of life when undergoing treatment.

Far from causing prostate cancer, healthy testosterone levels actually promote prostate health, according to a strong body of research. Unfortunately, many physicians continue to be misinformed about the link between testosterone and prostate health. For decades it has been considered standard practice to prescribe testosterone blocking drugs to men with early prostate cancer. In fact, some experts have estimated that today 25 percent of men over age 75 may be taking drugs that virtually eliminate testosterone in the body. These drugs are being given despite the fact that when testosterone production is suppressed, men experience significant side effects including impotence, diabetes, bone loss, and increased risk of heart disease.

New Study Suggests Early Prostate Patients Need Not Suffer Low T Symptoms

However, a large study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine may soon put an end to this practice. The study, which was conducted by researchers at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, tracked the health of 66,700 men ages 66+diagnosed with early prostate cancer over periods as long as 15 years. When the researchers compared men treated in areas where testosterone suppression is commonly used to men treated in areas where drugs are less commonly used, they found no evidence to indicate that the drugs prolonged life.

This study’s results concur with those of a large, randomized trial conducted in Europe, which found no benefit for early stage prostate cancer patients taking testosterone suppressing drugs. However, the trial found that men with aggressive prostate cancer were helped.

This finding is consistent with what we know about prostate cancer treatment in men with advanced or aggressive prostate cancer, suppressing testosterone can limit the growth of the cancer and help improve survival when combined with other treatments such as radiation. In such cases, the treatment would be worth the side effects.

But in men whose cancers are growing very slowly anyway, suppressing testosterone seems to result in more hardship than benefits. A JAMA editorial accompanying the new study called the practice of prescribing testosterone suppressing drugs to early prostate cancer patients “a prime candidate” for inclusion on a list of unnecessary medical tests and procedures being compiled by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation.

Why This Study Matters to You

It is encouraging to see more and more experts realizing that the vital role that healthy testosterone plays in men’s health and well-being. If you are one of the roughly 225,000 men who will be diagnosed with non-aggressive, low-risk prostate cancer this year, think very carefully before you agree to take any medications that will limit your body’s testosterone production. Your testosterone levels are likely already lower than normal if you are an older man, and to decrease them further would have a dramatic impact on your future quality of life. Most men who get put on testosterone suppressing drugs remain on them for life, so you need to take this choice very seriously.

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