Hormone therapy for prostate cancer may be risky for certain older men, according to a newly released study. The research, which appears today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that older men with serious heart problems faced a higher risk of death when their cancer was treated with hormones.
Hormone therapy, which is administered via injections in a doctors office, is used to shrink and inhibit the growth of prostate tumors. It does this by suppressing the production of testosterone. According to the Associated Press, common side effects of prostate cancer hormone therapy include impotence, bone loss, hot flashes, memory problems, fatigue, and an increased risk for diabetes and heart disease.
This latest study, conducted by researchers at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital–Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, followed 5,077 men (median age, 69.5 years) with localized or locally advanced prostate cancer at an Illinois treatment center. According to a press release detailing the study, all of the men underwent brachytherapy, a type of radiation treatment. Around 30 percent underwent hormone therapy for an average of four months. The men were followed for roughly five years.
According to The Los Angeles Times: “Among 256 men in the study who had congestive heart failure or a heart attack as a result of coronary artery disease, 95 got hormone therapy and 161 did not. The rate of all-cause mortality was 26.3% for patients treated with hormones, compared with 11.2% for patients who skipped it. When the numbers were adjusted to account for various factors, such as age, the risk of death was 96% higher in the hormone group.”
The risk of death was not higher for men undergoing hormone therapy who had only one risk factor for coronary artery disease, or who did not have heart disease, the Times said. Patients with other risk factors, such as diabetes or high blood pressure did not appear to face a higher risk.
According to Reuters, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, killing 254,000 a year globally. Because it is a slow-growing cancer, some doctors have begun to argue that less aggressive treatments should be used on some patients. This new study will likely give weight to such arguments.