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Hormone Therapy For Prostate Cancer Could Affect Thinking, Study Concludes

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Hormone therapy provided to patients to treat prostate cancer could negatively affect the ability of patients to think clearly, according to a new study. The effect appears to strike males in the first six months of such treatments, and the condition can last up to a year.

Hormone therapy is designed to lower concentrations of testosterone in the patient's body, which can reduce the rate at which prostate cancer cells grow.

Concentration, learning, and memory problems were all seen in a greater number of men undergoing hormone therapy than those not undergoing the treatment. Genetic analysis revealed that a single gene mutation seems to be correlated to greatly increased risk from hormone treatments.

Other forms of treatment for cancer have also been reported as having negative impacts on the cognitive functions of patients. Many patients undergoing chemotherapy report slow thinking, a condition referred to, informally, as chemo-brain.

"Studies like ours show the importance of identifying genetic predictors of cognitive impairment. This information can be used to further personalize cancer care based on patients' unique characteristics, and to find patients who may be prone to be intolerant of this standard type of treatment," said Mayer Fishman of the Moffitt Cancer Center.

University of South Florida researchers, along with colleagues from other institutions, studied 230 men to examine the effects of hormone therapy on prostate cancer patients. Of these, 58 underwent the treatments, and were examined at the start of their program, as well as six and 12 months later. Their records were compared with a total of 84 men who chose surgical removal of the gland and 88 without the disease. Of the three groups, those receiving hormone therapy were found to have the highest incidence of fuzzy thinking. However, that problem became 14 times more common among those with the rs1047776 gene mutation.

Although there appears to be a correlation between hormone therapy and reduced cognitive function, this study should not be interpreted as evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship, researchers state. Hormone therapy may also cause depression and fatigue, which could each contribute to reduced cognitive functioning.

"Men who are considering hormone therapy for prostate cancer should be aware of the possible mental side effects," Gonzalez said.

Future investigation could examine a randomized group of men who receive hormone therapy for a standard amount of time, and compare their condition to that of subjects not undergoing the treatment, said Dr. Anthony D'Amico, chief of radiation oncology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who was not involved in the study. 

Analysis of the effects of hormone therapy on prostate cancer patients was profiled in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Photo: Hartwig HKD | Flickr

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