A treatment strategy called bipolar androgen therapy — where patients alternate between low and high levels of testosterone — might make prostate tumors more responsive to standard hormonal therapy, according to a small study published in Science Translational Medicine.

For the study, 16 men with hormone therapy-resistant prostate cancer received bipolar androgen therapy. Of these patients, seven had their cancer go into remission.

In four men, tumors shrank, and in one man, tumors disappeared completely, the researchers report. If confirmed in several ongoing larger trials, “this could lead to a new treatment approach” for prostate cancers that have grown resistant to hormonal therapy, lead researcher Michael Schweizer, M.D., an assistant professor of oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, told HealthDay.

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Overall, “50 percent of patients had declines in their prostate specific antigen and 50 percent had shrinkage of their cancer,” Schweizer said.

Senior study author Samuel Denmeade, M.D., is co-director of the prostate cancer program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He told HealthDay that he believes the new approach has benefits beyond its effect on cancer cells — restoring a man’s testosterone levels also reduced the side effects of hormone therapy, which include mood swings and sexual dysfunction.

And although testosterone levels alternated between high and low, the men seemed to tolerate the treatment well, he added.

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Denmeade stressed that this treatment is not a cure, but a way to make men feel better and extend the time standard hormonal therapy remains effective. “Maybe men will live longer, but we don’t know that yet,” he said. 

Bipolar androgen therapy is probably not for “men who have not [yet] had any treatment for prostate cancer,” he added. Moreover, the long-term effects or dangers of the therapy aren’t yet known. Only longer, larger trials will help uncover any risks associated with the treatment.


  1. Schweizer, Michael T., et al. “Effect of bipolar androgen therapy for asymptomatic men with castration-resistant prostate cancer: Results from a pilot clinical study.” Science Translational Medicine. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3010563. January 7, 2015.