A newly-released study published in JAMA suggests that hormone-blocking drugs frequently used as part of the treatment for prostate cancer may in fact increase a patient’s chance for developing dementia. Yet researchers who conducted the study state that the data is not conclusive enough to recommend discontinuing or not utilizing a drug that might improve the survival of a patient with prostate cancer.
During the course of the study, individuals with prostate cancer who used hormone blockers had an almost 50% risk of developing dementia over a five-year period when compared with individuals with prostate cancer who did not use hormone blockers. The actual risk for dementia was overall “low” for all men involved in the study.
Scientists reviewed 20 years of patient records, which encompassed over 9000 men with prostate cancer who were treated at Stanford University. Some 20% of those men were administered hormone blockers as part of their treatment. Hormone blockers can lower testosterone levels as well as the levels of other hormones which can promote cancer growth.
A follow-up five years later found 8% of the men with prostate cancer who took hormone blockers had dementia as opposed to dementia being present in only 4% of men with prostate cancer who did not take hormone blockers. Researchers stress that more in depth and meticulous study is needed.
The research is eye-opening if only because of the sheer number of men with prostate cancer who take hormone blockers. Nearly 50% of all men with prostate cancer in the developed world receive hormone blockers as part of their treatment regimen. This includes some 500,000 men with prostate cancer in the United States. All of this begging the question — why is the number of prostate patients using hormone blockers so high?
Hormone blockers are typically administered to prostate cancer patients who are not treated with radiation or surgery and/or whose cancer has not metastasized to other parts of their body. Hormone blockers are administered via pill or injection over a period of several months and as long as several years, but prostate cancer patients with advanced forms of prostate cancer can be put on this drug regiment for an indefinite period.Additionally, prostate cancer patients of advanced years whom doctors feel will not deal well with radiation or surgery are placed on hormone blockers.
There have been other studies based on medical record review suggesting this link between hormone blockers and dementia. Prostate patients in the Stanford based study were a part of a bigger study that included University of Pennsylvania prostate patients, and that study found an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, a form of Dementia.
Studies which review medical records focus on diagnosis and billing codes to measure risk in treatment and the formation of trends in disease. This study, which scanned medical records, also included the notes written by nurses and doctors regarding the patients and their disease.