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May 2016

Hormone Treatment for Prostate Cancer: Depression Risk?

Hormone therapy is a common treatment for prostate cancer. But a new study found that older men who get this therapy may be more likely to develop depression.

The longer the men were on the therapy, the higher their risk for depression.

Older man talking with doctor

The study looked at more than 78,000 men who were treated for early-stage prostate cancer between 1992 and 2006. The study was published recently in the Journal of Oncology.

Hormone therapy is used to treat some prostate tumors because testosterone can help a cancer to grow. Hormone therapy causes a man’s body to cut back on the amount of testosterone it makes.  This helps limit the cancer’s growth.

Side effects to consider

But the therapy has side effects. These include sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and hot flashes. It’s possible that the therapy could also affect a man’s mood and lead to depression, the researchers say. Or the depression could be an indirect effect.

Although hormone therapy was once prescribed for any man with prostate cancer, that has changed.

"More and more, we've been recognizing that it has harms," said researcher Paul Nguyen, MD.

Of men in the study who were treated for 6 months or less, 6% developed depression within 3 years of their cancer diagnosis. That rose to 8% among men who were on hormone therapy for at least a year, the researchers found.

Slow-growing cancer

Prostate cancer often grows slowly. It may never reach the point where it is life-threatening. For men at low risk for prostate cancer that spreads, the risks of hormone therapy may outweigh the benefits, Nguyen said.

For men at medium or high risk, hormone therapy may be a better choice. Adding hormone therapy could improve the chances for survival. And in that case, knowing that depression is a possible side effect can be helpful. Depression can be treated if it is found.

"If we understand that depression is a risk, we can talk about it with patients and they can anticipate it," said Mayer Fishman, MD, a cancer specialist in Miami.


Learn more about prostate cancer treatment.


Online resources


National Cancer Institute

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