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Heart problems, diabetes and sex hormones

Some cancer treatments can lower the levels of sex hormones in the body. The sex hormones are oestrogen and progesterone in women, and testosterone in men. The cancer treatments include hormone treatments for prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer needs testosterone to grow. Hormonal treatments aim to:

  • stop the testicles from making testosterone
  • stop testosterone reaching cancer cells

Research suggests that low levels of testosterone can cause heart problems and diabetes in men.

The role of testosterone in heart disease

Low levels of testosterone can affect the amount of fat in your body. It might also affect where it collects in your body.

Low levels of testosterone can:

  • cause fat can build up around your tummy (abdomen), this is called central obesity
  • increase the amount of fats called cholesterol in your blood

If you already have heart problems, this might affect which treatment is best for you. Talk to your doctor about your heart problems before starting treatment.

The role of testosterone in diabetes

Insulin is a hormone controlling the level of sugar (glucose) in your blood. Low testosterone can make your body resistant to insulin, which keeps your blood sugar high. Insulin is important in helping sugar (glucose) to be absorbed by the cells in your body.

If you already have diabetes your body may need more insulin to keep your blood sugar level within normal ranges. You may need to test your blood sugar level more often.

Tips to help lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a healthy well balanced diet
  • Be physically active, exercise regularly
Talk to your doctor before staring any physical activity if you aren’t normally very active. They can help you to work out what is best for you.

Physical activity

UK Guidelines recommend adults are physically active for 30 minutes each day for 5 days of the week. What you can do will depend on what you do already. You may need to build up gradually. This might mean starting with a few minutes walk and slowly building it up over a number of weeks.  

Exercise can be an important part of your physical recovery after cancer treatment.

Exercise should include activities to increase your muscle strength on 2 days of the week. This can help with changes to your muscles with hormone treatment. This might include carrying shopping or more formal exercise such as lifting weights or yoga.

Diet

A healthy well balanced diet will help to maintain your weight. Check with your dietitian if you have diabetes. You should aim to:

  • base meals on starchy foods like potatoes, pasta or noodles
  • eat 5 portions of fruit or vegetables per day
  • cut down on sugar and salt
  • drink plenty of water
Last reviewed: 
14 Nov 2018
  • Androgen deprivation therapy and cardiovascular disease: what is the linking mechanism?
    P Zareba and others
    Therapeutic Advances in Urology, 2016. Vol 8, No 2, 118-129

  • Androgen deprivation therapy is associated with diabetes: evidence from meta- analysis
    H Wang and others
    Journal of Diabetes Investigation, July 2016. Vol 7,(4):629-36

  • Metabolic syndrome in prostate cancer: impact on risk and outcomes
    M Karzai and others
    Future Oncology, August 2016. Vol 12,(16):1947-55

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