SAN DIEGO – A physician assistant urged colleagues to cast a skeptical eye on male patients who try to jump on board the testosterone therapy train.
“I see many patients getting onto testosterone without having had an adequate evaluation. And I see many patients who might not need testosterone replacement,” Ji Hyun “CJ” Chun, PA-C, MPAS, BC-ADM, said at the Metabolic & Endocrine Disease Summit by Global Academy for Medical Education.
Mr. Chun, who is based at OptumCare Medical Group, Laguna Niguel, Calif., and has served as president of the American Society of Endocrine PAs, offered this advice on evaluating male patients for testosterone therapy:
- Pinpoint the type of hypogonadism. After hypogonadism has been confirmed with lab tests, additional testing should be done to distinguish primary from secondary hypogonadism. Primary hypogonadism refers to the failure of the testes to properly produce testosterone and sperm and is indicated by elevated levels of LH and FSH. Secondary hypogonadism is caused by failures of the hypothalamus, the pituitary, or both, to stimulate the testes to produce testosterone and sperm. It is indicated by low or low-normal levels of LH and FSH.
- Determine the cause of hypogonadism. Cases of hypogonadism are either organic or functional. Diagnostic guidelines provided by the Endocrine Society are helpful in determining the proper category, Mr. Chun said (J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2018;103:1715-44). Functional hypogonadism is caused by some medications; opioids; abuse of steroids, alcohol, or marijuana; and obesity, which also greatly increases the risk of secondary hypogonadism. These factors – and functional hypogonadism itself – can conceivably be stopped and/or reversed. This form of hypogonadism tends to be mild, compared with organic or “classic” hypogonadism, which is permanent and caused by factors such as advanced age, some types of chemotherapy, and testicle removal. “Organic male hypogonadism mimics female menopause,” Mr. Chun said, in areas such as rate of hormonal decline, which is typically rapid, and hormone deficiency, which is profound. When it comes to treatment, “the benefits far outweigh the risks in organic hypogonadism. But if [a patient has] late-onset [functional] hypogonadism, it gets more complicated.”
- Late-onset hypogonadism treatment. What should be done for patients who have late-onset, organic hypogonadism? According to Mr. Chun, the data regarding testosterone therapy in this population are mixed. The Food and Drug Administration has approved testosterone therapy only for men with organic hypogonadism, he said, noting that “none of the FDA-approved testosterone products are approved for use in men with low testosterone levels who lack an associated medical condition.” However, the Endocrine Society guidelines are less restrictive. In its 2018 guidelines, the society frowned on testosterone therapy for men younger than 65 years with age-related hypogonadism. As for older men, it said that for those “who have symptoms or conditions suggestive of testosterone deficiency (such as low libido or unexplained anemia) and consistently and unequivocally low morning testosterone concentrations, we suggest that clinicians offer testosterone therapy on an individualized basis after explicit discussion of the potential risks and benefits.”
- Don’t push for high testosterone levels. When treating patients, “you want to restore the testosterone to an adequate level,” Mr. Chun said. “What’s an adequate level? We don’t know.” He urged colleagues to not overdo it and to consider aiming for a testosterone level ranging between 350 ng/dL and 700 ng/dL. “I get [the levels] to the lowest level at which the patient is symptomatically fine.”
Global Academy and this news organization are owned by the same parent company. Mr. Chun disclosed that he is on the AstraZeneca speakers bureau and the Sanofi advisory board.