Every day, thousands of medical scientists go to work and try to make the world a better place. Most of their research never finds its way to public knowledge— but more should. That’s why we’re celebrating Men’s Health Month with the latest developments in that scientific arena.
Scanning the science newswire, you’ll find that prostate cancer is one of the most active research areas right now. But there’s also news in men’s depression, testosterone usage and other types of cancer affecting men. Here’s the latest in the field.
Customized treatment of prostate cancer
Prostate cancer will affect about 221,000 new men this year, according to the National Cancer Institute, and nearly 1 in 7 men in their lifetimes. Although about 99 percent of men survive their prostate cancer, treatment is stressful and costly.
Working with scientists in the United States, British researchers created a comprehensive map of gene mutations present in prostate cancers that had spread to other parts of the body, calling it the “Rosetta Stone of prostate cancer.” Their new landmark study has revealed that 90 percent of men with advanced prostate cancer “carry genetic mutations in their tumors that could be targeted by either existing or new cancer drugs,” according to the website of London’s Institute of Cancer Research.
Doctors can now test for these gene mutations and treat the cancer with drugs known to target them, researchers say. The practice of using genetic testing to inform treatment choices is referred to as precision medicine, and it allows doctors to treat cancers with drugs that may more commonly be used to treat other cancers.
Midlife fitness impacts men’s health risks later
In March, researchers from the University of Vermont, Burlington examined the association between fitness in men during midlife, or ages 40 to 60, and cancer survival at age 65 or older. The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Oncology, included 13,949 men.
The researchers used a fitness test metric called cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) to measure fitness levels. High CRF correlated to “a 55 percent and 44 percent reduction in the risk of lung and colorectal cancer, respectively, compared with low CRF,” reads the study’s discussion. In other words, men who were more fit at midlife seemed less likely to develop those types of cancer.
The researchers also found that among the men who did get cancer after 64, those with high CRF at midlife were 33 percent less likely to die from the cancer. Prostate cancer was unaffected by CRF in midlife, according to the study.
Testosterone replacements are over-prescribed
Testosterone treatment is on the rise for men, who commonly seek out the hormone to increase muscle tone and sex drive. According to a new study of 61,000 men by researchers at the University of Texas, Galveston, about 20 percent were prescribed testosterone despite having normal levels, which may have consequences.
High testosterone levels are a risk factor for enlarged prostate and prostate cancer, and that may not be all. Researchers only recently learned that high levels of estrogen in women were a risk factor for breast, ovarian and other cancers. Testosterone elevation may have a similar effect in men with yet unknown cancer risks, some experts fear.
Sleep apnea linked to depression in men
Although more common in women, depression is a very real men’s health issue, as it often goes undiagnosed and untreated in men, leading to more serious depression. A new study by researchers in Australia reveals that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may be a risk factor for depression in men. Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the airways are blocked briefly during sleep, disrupting sleep patterns.
According to the study, which was presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference, men with OSA and excessive daytime sleepiness are four to five times more likely to suffer from depression than well-rested men. The study’s authors say that men with OSA should be screened for depression. So if you think that might be you, talk to your doctor about your options.
Cancer detection method could reduce unnecessary biopsies
A good way to waste some money is by getting a medical service you don’t need. One screening test for an enlarged prostate, a risk factor for prostate cancer, detects prostate serum antigen, or PSA levels. If levels are high enough, doctors typically order a biopsy of the prostate, which is positive for cancer about half the time. Biopsies for prostate cancer are invasive and often uncomfortable.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a urine test for PSA and two other prostate cancer markers that can estimate prostate cancer risk with a scoring system. The developers say that using the scoring system, patients and doctors can better decide together whether a biopsy is needed.
The test is called Mi-Prostate Score, and it’s available to anyone but requires a doctor’s request.
Men who are interested in the test can call the University of Michigan's MLabs at 800-862-7284 for more information.