Treatment with hormone testosterone could be effective at combating a condition of loss of body mass in cancer patients and improving the quality of life, say researchers.
Approximately 20 per cent of cancer related deaths are attributed to the syndrome of cachexia, which in cancer patients is often characterised by a rapid or loss of fat and skeletal muscle.
These findings are important, as there are currently no established therapies targeting this loss of skeletal muscle, and without an intervention, patients lose muscle function and become fatigued and weakened.
"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," said Melinda Sheffield-Moore, Professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch, in the US.
She said previous nutrition-focused treatment failed to combat this severe loss of body mass.
"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 said.
For the study, published in the Journal of Cachexia, patients with a type of cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma were treated with standard of care chemotherapy and/or radiation in addition to seven weeks of treatment with either testosterone or placebo.
Those receiving testosterone maintained total body mass and increased lean body mass by 3.2 per cent.
Sustaining body mass is important considering most patients experience a 20 per cent decrease in body mass or more depending upon the type of cancer.
Patients also demonstrated enhanced physical activity.
"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," Sheffield-Moore said.