Common Treatment for Prostate Cancer May Double Risk of Dementia

Reducing testosterone levels in patients has many potential negative side effects, including increased dementia risk

Common Treatment for Prostate Cancer May Double Risk of Dementia
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October 17, 2016

Androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) has been one of the most common treatments for prostate cancer since the 1940s. However, research indicates that patients who experience it may be at twice the risk for dementia.

ADT is currently treated an estimated 500,000 men in the U.S. by reducing their levels of testosterone. Although the treatment has been effective in fighting the disease, scientists are becoming more and more worried about the treatments potential side effects.

A new University of Pennsylvania study suggests that ADT treatment may double a man's risk of developing either Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. Although the researchers make it clear in the study that they do not yet have conclusive proof of the increased risks, they says that their research—analyzing medical records to compare patients who received ADT with those who did not—"strongly supports" that conclusion.

"This is not an academic question anymore; this is really a clinical question that needs to be answered," said Dr. Kevin T. Nead, lead author of the study.

Nead references two research papers that, according to him, should very similar outcomes and magnitudes of the risk. He believes that the possibility needs further study at the very least.

The researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are not the only scientists who suspect ADT. Research conducted in recent years has also linked low levels of testosterone with cognitive decline, discovering that men who have Alzheimer's have to tendency to have lower levels of testosterone when compared to men who are the same age but do not have the disease.

Doctors have long known that androgens—male hormones—play a major part in the stimulation of cell growth in the prostate. It is for this reason that ADT reduces production of androgen in an attempt to shrink prostate tumors.

According to the American Cancer Society, it is usually patients who are not good candidates for treatment with surgery or radiation who are treated with ADT. The treatment is sometimes used in cases in which the patient has been treated with surgery or radiation but the cancer returns.

However, researchers warn that lowering androgen levels too much can have serious negative consequences, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. They included dementia on the list of possible side effects only recently.

The scientists have not ruled out the possibility that there could be other reasons why men being treated with ADT tend to be at higher risk for dementia, but they say that the matter must be studied further in order to reach a firm conclusion.