Try testosterone for some women with sexual dysfunction, but not others



A new international position statement on testosterone therapy for women concludes that a trial of testosterone is appropriate for postmenopausal women with hypoactive sexual desire dysfunction (HSDD) and that its use for any other condition, symptom, or reason is not supported by available evidence.

The seven-page position statement, developed by an international task force of experts from the Endocrine Society, the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, and multiple other medical societies, also emphasized that blood concentrations of testosterone should approximate premenopausal physiological conditions.

“When testosterone therapy is given, the resultant blood levels should not be above those seen in healthy young women,” said lead author Susan Ruth Davis, PhD, MBBS, of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, in a press release issued by the Endocrine Society. Dr. Davis is president of the International Menopause Society, which coordinated the panel.

The statement was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism and three other medical journals.

Margaret E. Wierman, MD, who represented the Endocrine Society on the task force, said in an interview that there has been “growing concern about testosterone being prescribed for a variety of signs and symptoms without data to support” such use. At the same time, there is significant concern about the ongoing lack of approved formulations licensed specifically for women, she said.

In part, the statement is about a renewed “call to industry to make some [female-specific] formulations so that we can examine other potential roles of testosterone in women,” said Dr. Wierman, professor of medicine and physiology at the University of Colorado at Denver, Aurora, and chief of endocrinology at the Rocky Mountain Regional Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Aurora.

“Testosterone may be useful [for indications other than HSDD], but we don’t know. There may be no [breast or cardiovascular disease risk], but we don’t know,” she said. “And without a formulation to study potential benefits and risks, it’s good to be cautious. It’s good to really outline where we have data and where we don’t.”

The Endocrine Society’s 2014 clinical practice guideline on androgen therapy in women, for which Dr. Wierman was the lead author, also recommended against the off-label use of testosterone for sexual dysfunction other than HSDD or for any other reason, such as cognitive, cardiovascular, metabolic, or bone health. As with the new statement, the society’s position statement was guided by an international, multisociety task force, albeit a smaller one.

For the new global position statement, the task force’s review of evidence includes a recently published systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trial data – of at least 12 weeks’ duration – on the use of testosterone for sexual function, cardiometabolic variables, cognitive measures, and musculoskeletal health. Some of the data from the randomized controlled trials were unpublished.

The meta-analysis, led by Dr. Davis and published in July in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, found that, compared with placebo or a comparator (such as estrogen, with or without progesterone), testosterone in either oral or transdermal form significantly improved sexual function in postmenopausal women. However, data about the effects of testosterone for other indications, its long-term safety, and its use in premenopausal women, were insufficient for drawing any conclusions (Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2019 Jul 25. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587[19]30189-5).

In addition, testosterone administered orally – but not nonorally (patch or cream) – was associated with adverse lipid profiles, Dr. Davis and her colleagues reported.

Another systematic review and meta-analysis, published in Fertility and Sterility in 2017 and included in the task force’s evidence review, focused specifically on transdermal testosterone for menopausal women with HSDD, with or without estrogen and progestin therapy. It also showed short-term efficacy in terms of improvement in sexual function, as well as short-term safety (Fertil Steril. 2017;107(2):475-82).

The new position statement warns about the lack of long-term safety data, stating that “safety data for testosterone in physiologic doses are not available beyond 24 months of treatment.”

In the short term, testosterone therapy for postmenopausal women (in doses approximating testosterone concentrations for premenopausal women), is associated with mild increases in acne and body/facial hair growth in some women, but not with alopecia, clitoromegaly, or voice change. Short-term transdermal therapy also does not seem to affect breast cancer risk or have any significant effects on lipid profiles, the statement says.


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