Women should not take testosterone to treat loss of sexual desire until there is good evidence it is safe - and that it actually works - a behavioral scientist warns in a new report.
"I think that there is a lot of excitement about the use of androgens ('male' hormones) to treat low sexual desire in women that is based on evidence that looks better than it really is," Dr Leslie R. Schover said. "I think that the evidence has some significant flaws."
Shover, a professor at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the author of the article in the journal Fertility and Sterility, adds: "This area of research is being driven by the incredible profits that pharma companies are expecting, given that one in three women in the US will rate herself as having low sexual desire."
Interest in the use of testosterone to treat women's sexual desire has ballooned since the development of patches and gels have made it more convenient to use the hormone, Schover notes in her article, which reviews the evidence for the benefits and risks of using it to treat low sexual desire in women.
Testosterone may boost breast cancer risk
The new testosterone products are approved for men with medical hormonal problems, but are increasingly being prescribed to women, as well as men without low testosterone, to boost libido, Schover said.
While the US Food and Drug Administration decided in 2004 not to approve a testosterone patch for women made by Proctor & Gamble, the European Union approved the product, Intrinsa, for this purpose in 2006. Similar products developed by other companies are currently in clinical trials.
The FDA's concerns were largely centered on the possibility of increased heart disease risk in women using the patch, Schover writes, but she points out that there is also growing evidence that the hormone may boost breast cancer risk.
The body converts testosterone into estrogen, which has known breast cancer promoting properties, she explains, while it also may make certain types of breast cancer more aggressive.
"I think that there is a substantial body of evidence that hangs together very well that says that raising your level of androgen may well raise your risk of breast cancer," she said.
No link between testosterone levels and sex drive
Another issue, Schover added, is that studies to date have found no link between a woman's testosterone levels and her sex drive.
Women's lack of sexual desire does have some known causes, according to the researcher, including low estrogen levels resulting in vaginal dryness that makes sex painful, as well as relationship problems, life stress, depression and other issues.
"We know how to treat those things safely," she said. Doctors may forget that "behavioral therapies may be more effective than hormonal treatment," Shover adds. – (Reuters Health, August 2008)
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