Galveston, TX—Cachexia can be dangerous for cancer patients, with about 20% of deaths related to the rapid or severe loss of fat and skeletal muscle. Now, researchers are suggesting a novel remedy for the condition: the male hormone testosterone.

The small study published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle provided evidence that testosterone might be effective in combatting cachexia in cancer patients and improving quality of life.

University of Texas Medical Branch–led researchers emphasize the importance of their results, especially since no established therapies currently exist to help stem the loss of skeletal muscle.

“We hoped to demonstrate these patients would go from not feeling well enough to even get out of bed to at least being able to have some basic quality of life that allows them to take care of themselves and receive therapy,” explained Melinda Sheffield-Moore, PhD, professor and head of the Department of Health and Kinesiology at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase II clinical trial involved patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix or head and neck undergoing standard-of-care treatment, including chemotherapy and chemoradiation. The 28 patients were randomly assigned in blocks to receive weekly injections of either 100-mg testosterone enanthate or placebo for 7 weeks.

Percent change in lean body mass was defined as the primary outcome, with secondary outcomes including assessment of quality of life, tests of physical performance, muscle strength, daily activity levels, resting energy expenditure, nutritional intake, and overall survival.

Results indicated that adjunct testosterone increased lean body mass by 3.2% (95% confidence interval [CI], 0-7%) versus a loss of 3.3% (95% CI, -7%-1%, P = .015) in those receiving placebo. Overall survival did not appear to be affected, the researchers report, but testosterone patients maintained better body condition and sustained daily activity levels, and showed meaningful improvements in quality of life and physical performance.

“In patients with advanced cancer undergoing the early phase of standard of care therapy, adjunct testosterone improved lean body mass and was also associated with increased quality of life, and physical activity compared with placebo,” study authors conclude.

“We already know that testosterone builds skeletal muscle in healthy individuals, so we tried using it in a population at a high risk of muscle loss, so these patients could maintain their strength and performance status to be able to receive standard cancer therapies,” Sheffield-Moore pointed out.

Patients receiving testosterone in the study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, showed remarkable improvement, she added, noting, “They felt well enough to get up and take care of some of their basic activities of daily living, like cooking, cleaning and bathing themselves.”

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