Some researchers say that testosterone therapy may increase your risk for prostate cancer, but more research is needed to understand the link. Testosterone is a male sex hormone called androgen. Its produced in a man’s testes. Testosterone helps maintain:
- Sperm production
- Muscle and bone mass
- Facial and body hair
- Sex drive
- Red blood cell production
In middle age, a man’s testosterone production starts to slow. Many men develop symptoms of low testosterone, or “low T,” which include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Reduced sex drive
- Low energy
- Reduced muscle mass and bone density
When these symptoms are severe, they are called Hypogonadism. Hypogonadism affects an estimated 2.4 million men over the age of 40 in the United States. By their 70s, one-quarter of men will have this condition. Testosterone therapy can improve quality of life in men with low testosterone. However, it’s been a controversial practice since some research has suggested that testosterone fuels prostate cancer growth.
What’s the Connection?
In the early 1940s, researchers Charles Brenton Huggins and Clarence Hodges discovered that when men’s testosterone production dropped, their prostate cancer stopped growing. The researchers also found that giving testosterone to men with prostate cancer made their cancer grow. They concluded that testosterone promotes prostate cancer growth.
As further evidence, one of the main treatments for prostate cancer – hormone therapy – slows cancer growth by lowering testosterone levels in the body. The belief that testosterone fuels the cancer growth has led many doctors to void prescribing testosterone therapy for men who have a history of prostate cancer.
In recent years, research has challenged the link between a man’s testosterone level and prostate cancer. Some studies have contradicted it, finding a higher risk of the cancer among men with low testosterone levels.
A 2016 meta analyst of research found no relationship between a man’s testosterone level and his risk of developing prostate cancer. Another review of studies showed that testosterone therapy doesn’t increase the risk of prostate cancer or make it more severe in men who have already been diagnosed.
According to a 2015 review in the journal Medicine, testosterone replacement therapy also doesn’t increase prostate-specific antigen levels. PSA is a protein that is elevated in the bloodstream of men with prostate cancer.
Whether testosterone therapy is safe, for men with a history of prostate cancer, is still an open question. More studies are needed to understand the connection. The existing evidence suggests that testosterone therapy may be safe for some men with low testosterone who have successfully completed prostate cancer treatment and are at low risk for a recurrence.