A striking difference has been observed between the sexes, as the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic. As suspicions naturally turn towards the sex hormones, a new study pointed out that androgens might play a role in making men more vulnerable to the coronavirus infection.
Italian researchers found that prostate cancer patients who were treated with androgen deprivation therapy were less likely to catch the coronavirus and die compared to other patients without cancer.
The findings of the study demonstrated that androgens somehow make the virus more virulent and that this exacerbates the disease severity in men. The study also indicated that androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) offered protection against COVID-19.
The researchers analyzed data from 68 hospitals in the Veneto region which was one of the most affected areas in Italy by the COVID-19 pandemic. Amongst the 9280 patients with laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2, 4532 were men. But men were more prone to develop complications from the coronavirus infection. 66% of men required hospitalization and 78% of them needed intensive care. The study also pointed out that men died more than women.
The researchers also demonstrated that male cancer patients had nearly two times higher risk of catching COVID-19 compared to men without cancer.
“This is the first paper to suggest a link between ADT and COVID-19,” Medscape Medical News quoted the lead researcher Andrea Alimonti, MD, Ph.D., Università Della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland. “Patients with prostate cancer receiving ADT had a significant fourfold reduced risk of COVID-19 infections compared to patients who did not receive ADT. An even greater difference (fivefold reduction in risk) was found when we compared prostate cancer patients receiving ADT to patients with any other type of cancer,” he added.
However, experts opine that the hypothesis that androgen levels could be facilitating COVID-19 infections and increased severity of symptoms in men need independent validation in other large population-wide datasets alongside appropriate statistical analysis.
Also, men taking ADT might have been more likely to self-isolate and that might have been a possibility of why they had a reduced risk of catching the coronavirus infection.