Researchers in the US have highlighted a possible link between a prostate cancer treatment called androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The findings are published on Monday 7th December in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Androgens are a group of male hormones that includes testosterone. These hormones play a number of important roles in the body but can also stimulate the growth of prostate cancer cells in those affected by the disease. Androgen deprivation therapy blocks the effect of androgens on prostate cancer cells and is one treatment approach doctors may use to tackle intermediate and high-risk cases of the disease. While some changes in memory and thinking skills have previously been identified as a possible side effect of ADT, this study is the first to look at a possible link with Alzheimer’s disease.
To do this, the researchers in the study reviewed the medical records of 16,888 prostate cancer patients, including 2,397 who had received ADT. After taking established Alzheimer’s risk factors such as age and diabetes into account, they found that the patients who received ADT were around 1.9 times more likely to go on to receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s than those who didn’t. Patients who received the treatment for more than a year showed a higher rate of Alzheimer’s diagnosis than those who had been treated with ADT for a shorter time. The researchers suggested some possible causes for a link between ADT and Alzheimer’s risk, highlighting that blocking androgens could be affecting the growth of nerve cells in the brain or influencing harmful processes driving Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Simon Ridley, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This study is part of an active area of research into the role that sex hormones like testosterone could be playing in dementia. Studies like this, which take advantage of the rich data held in medical records to identify potential risk factors for a particular disease, can be very useful for highlighting areas for further research. While these results suggest a possible link between androgen deprivation therapy and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, they do not show that ADT is causing this increased risk. Continued research will be important to shed light on possible reasons for this link to help doctors better understand the benefits and potential risks of this form of treatment. In the meantime, if anyone receiving ADT has any concerns they should seek advice from their doctor.
“Understanding the risk factors for Alzheimer’s is important for gaining a clearer picture of how the disease develops and finding new ways to tackle it. While the causes of Alzheimer’s are complex and not yet fully understood, the best current evidence suggests that eating a healthy and balanced diet, not smoking, staying mentally and physically active, and keeping weight and blood pressure in check can all help reduce the risk of the disease.”