Prostate Cancer Treatment Linked to Alzheimer's
If you're a man and you're over 50, you're probably familiar with the PSA test for prostate cancer. It's hard to ignore. Like so many "regular screenings," you're reminded of it at every turn. Even though the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force stopped recommending it a couple of years ago, there's still a lot of pressure on men to get tested. However, for most men there's no real reason to do this.
Back in 2012, the Preventive Services Task Force told us that PSA testing is a waste of time. They concluded that the harm outweighs the benefit. That it doesn't save lives. And that it does lead to a lot of unnecessary treatment.
That hasn't stopped Big Medicine from pushing the test, of course. And it hasn't stopped them from profiting from aggressive and unnecessary treatment either. Now there's yet another reason to pass on PSA testing, and to think very carefully about your options if you are diagnosed with prostate cancer.
It seems one of the most common treatments can double your chances of getting Alzheimer's.
Prostate cancer is overdiagnosed and overtreated
Each year, around 233,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Fortunately, most prostate cancers are slow-developing, and only about 29,500 people die from it. In fact a large percentage of prostate cancers would never even cause a problem if they were simply left alone. That's not to say that every man should avoid aggressive treatment. But in the majority of cases a "wait and watch" attitude is the most sensible choice.
Treatment consists of surgery, radiation therapy, hormone reduction, or a combination of all three. Each one has its own list of appalling side effects, from impotence to loss of bowel and bladder control. Many side effects are permanent.
The first line of treatment is often hormone therapy — which does nothing to prolong your lifespan and has already been shown to be harmful for most men. Hormone therapy drastically reduces the amount of male hormones your body produces. It causes many of the same symptoms women have during menopause. Symptoms such as hot flashes. It often results in impotence. It can make you develop breasts — although this side effect can be eliminated by exposing your chest to radiation. It also raises your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even death from heart disease.
Now research finds that it also raises your risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Low testosterone is linked to Alzheimer's
Although we don't know why, low testosterone is already associated with Alzheimer's. Low testosterone levels seem to contribute to the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, the abnormal clumps found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. These plaques are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease.
Testosterone is also important to healthy neurons, the cells that make up your brain. Recent research suggests that just one unhealthy neuron can affect those around it, possibly starting a chain reaction. It's speculated that testosterone's role in neural health may help explain the link between low levels of this hormone and Alzheimer's. The link is clear even if we don't yet understand why. And the most recent study made it even more obvious.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, looked at more than 16,000 men treated for prostate cancer. It showed that men receiving hormone therapy — having their levels of testosterone lowered — were an incredible eighty-eight percent more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's in the next two and a half years. Even more shockingly, men who had hormone therapy for more than a year doubled their risk.
Does the benefit really outweigh the risk?
Even the American Cancer Society agrees that hormone therapy might not be a good thing. According to them:
"Whether hormone therapy prolongs the survival of men who have been newly diagnosed with advanced disease but do not yet have symptoms is not clear."
And an ACS spokesman says, "There's a good proportion of men today that are taking this drug that should not be." Even without the risk of Alzheimer's the list of side effects is impressive. They include:
- No interest in sex
- Hot flashes
- Loss of muscle
- High cholesterol
- Insulin resistance
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Develop breasts tissue
And that's only a partial list. It can also cause nausea and diarrhea, liver damage, and more. So why is this treatment so often used on men who don't have "advanced disease"?
If this treatment was limited to the most aggressive cancers, it might be valid. But far too often it's the first line of treatment — even though there's no evidence that it extends men's lives. And again all too often it's used in cases where the best option would be to do nothing — to wait and see if the cancer progressed.
Of course, watching and waiting doesn't make any money.
Protect yourself from unnecessary treatment and protect your brain from Alzheimer's
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now actively discourages routine PSA screening for any men. However, if you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from overtreatment — including hormone therapy.
- Don't panic when you hear the word "cancer." Many prostate cancers are extremely slow-developing, to the point where you're more likely to die of old age than the cancer itself.
- Do your homework. Prostate cancer is extremely common, and that means that there is a lot of information out there. Take time to really educate yourself so you can base your decisions on facts instead of fear.
- Decide if you even want treatment. In many, if not most, cases watching and waiting is a better option. If you do choose treatment, then
- Consider the side effects carefully. Ask your doctor hard questions about all your options. What are the possible side effects? How often do they happen?
- And if you're offered hormone therapy, ask how much good it's really going to do. Even without the spectre of Alzheimer's, the side effects can be overwhelming.
It's estimated that some 5 million people have Alzheimer's. Avoiding overtreatment for prostate cancer is one more thing you can do to reduce your risk of joining them.
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