Almost every medical treatment carries the risk of side effects.
But as people age and the risk of developing different health conditions rises, they and their doctors increasingly have to make tough decisions about trade-offs.
New research presented earlier this month now suggests there might be another tough decision to add to the list.
But cancer experts warn that the likely small risk shouldn’t outweigh the potential life-saving benefits of the treatment.
The research is preliminary and it only found an association — meaning it isn’t clear whether the treatment actually causes the memory-loss condition.
Hormones like testosterone can fuel the growth and spread of prostate cancer. So hormone therapy, also called androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), slows the body’s production of testosterone and other “male hormones.”
That, in turn, can slow the cancer’s spread and sometimes shrink the tumors it has caused.
That’s because Roach thinks reading about findings like this could dissuade people from getting treatment that has a high likelihood of saving or extending their lives.
Dr. Stuart Holden, a urology oncologist at the University of California Los Angeles and medical director of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, said this information about recent studies does belong in the conversation when recommending hormone therapy to a patient.
“I think it should be mentioned,” Holden told Healthine. “It should be in the conversation, but it has to be placed in the proper context.”
The new study doesn’t “provide strong enough evidence, on its own, to change medical practice,” Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association, told Healthline.
Her organization “strongly believes that all discussions about the potential benefits and risks of any treatment — including hormone therapy — should be had with a doctor. The decision should be made based on the patient’s unique health needs and circumstances.”
“It’s been a relatively minor occurrence, but one that is worth studying,” he said.
Holden said he’s always told patients that there may be some changes in their personality or mental state. That’s perhaps not surprising for a treatment that tries to remove a man’s “male” hormones.
Most men gain 15 to 20 pounds and lose muscle mass, he said, and it’s understandable the treatment could affect their brains as well.
“I can’t imagine any patient refusing to go on the medication due to the risk of cognitive impairment,” he said. “The more likely reason is that it can cause fairly significant sexual side effects, and that’s of much greater interest to most patients — and pretty much 100 percent [of patients who have those side effects].”
However, other studies have found no connection and some experts believe the new study could lead some patients avoiding a life-saving treatment for the wrong reason.
Others believe it underlines a correlation that’s worth investigating further and mentioning, with some caveats, to patients.