ESTERO, Fla. (Aug. 30, 2022) – September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time to help break the stigma of suicide and depression and to raise awareness of available resources. Suicidal thoughts and mental health concerns may occur at any age. Sometimes this may be the result of untreated medical conditions, such as hormonal imbalances in cancer patients. Dr. Melissa (Mel) Irvine, DNP, Clinical Sexologist has seen the negative effects hormone deprivation therapy can have on cancer patients. She works with men and women of all ages and their providers to optimize hormone levels and improve their overall quality of life.
“Hormonal imbalances can cause symptoms of anxiety and depression affecting our mood and mental health. Cancer patients are at a two-fold risk of suicide compared to the general population, which for some patients may be partly due to the deprivation of essential hormones from cancer treatments,” explained Dr. Mel. “Patients with cancer that are suffering the symptoms of hormonal deficiencies need to know there are safe options available. If providers simply address anxiety and depression in any patient without checking hormones it is a true disservice to the patient and their care.”
Dr. Mel says it is extremely difficult for women with breast and other female cancers to find a provider who will address hormone deficiencies. Dr. Mel says, “Patients should find someone who monitors their levels frequently and the effects the hormone therapy is having. The goal of therapy is to maintain their levels at the lowest safest levels. Cancer patients have a right to hormone therapy just like any other patient population. When the levels are maintained at a low level, excessively feeding hormonally driven cancer is not a problem because these hormones are essential and needed in so many areas of the body.”
High blood levels of estrogen have been linked to an increased risk of some female cancers and can add fuel to the fire in women diagnosed with the disease. This causes most providers to completely disregard hormone replacement therapy and very few studies have been conducted on the consequences of hormone deprivation therapy in this population. Dr. Mel helps patients maintain their health by providing hormone replacement therapy utilizing natural supplements along with estrogen and testosterone combined with progesterone – three essential hormones that naturally decrease in production as we age or undergo certain medical treatments.
“This is the most common concern I hear,” said Dr. Mel. “It’s a fact that breast, uterine, prostate, and other gender-related cancers are vulnerable to excessive sex hormone levels, but hormone replacement in healthy adults at proper levels can actually help to reduce some cancer risks and there are options for cancer patients as well.”
She says putting a postmenopausal woman with a uterus on estrogen alone without progesterone can put a woman at risk for uterine cancer, but that women who have undergone a complete hysterectomy will no longer make these hormones but will still need estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone to maintain their quality of life. According to Dr. Mel, hormone replacement therapy is a delicate balance, and it is important to evaluate patients’ needs based on their unique circumstances to determine what is best; and that every patient, regardless of medical history, has options.
“Patients who have had hormone deprivation therapy in breast and prostate cancer have a 20 percent higher rate of suicide. These hormones do not take the immense stress away that these patients are under, but they significantly impact the ability to cope with stress,” said Dr. Mel. “It’s unreal to me how many people are on meds for anxiety and depression, but these medications do not correct any underlying hormonal deficiency which may be why these symptoms worsen over time. In this patient population it is not uncommon for medical providers to completely deprive patients of sex hormones, but no one considers the risks of doing that. These cancers are treated with such a monotherapy approach to care and there’s so much more going on in the body.”
The symptoms of anxiety and depression can mirror those of a hormone imbalance and are often accompanied by other common symptoms such as fatigue, decreased energy and libido, irritability, frequent bladder infections, hair loss, sleep disturbances, orgasm changes, erection changes, vaginal changes, weight gain, memory issues, difficulty concentrating, brain fog, and hot flashes or night sweats.
Throughout the month of September, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is highlighting their “Together for Mental Health” campaign, which encourages people to bring their voices together to advocate for better mental health care. Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988.
Dr. Mel often works with her patient’s providers to optimize their health and their mental wellness. She says some patients may be able to discontinue their antidepressants once hormone levels are treated and meet the unique needs of the individual. This should be done with caution and patients should consult their medical providers.
Dr. Mel Irvine, DNP, Clinical Sexologist can help diagnose a hormone imbalance and manage hormone replacement therapy to improve symptoms and quality of life. Her practice is located at 9250 Corkscrew Rd., Ste. 5 in Estero. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please visit drmelirvine.com, or call 239-351-5663. You can also follow her on Facebook for news, updates, and special offers.
About Dr. Melissa (Mel) Irvine, DNP
Dr. Mel has been in the medical field for over 15 years and is a board-certified Nurse Practitioner. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Brenau Women’s College, in Gainesville, Georgia, her Master of Science in Nursing at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, and her doctorate degree at Florida Gulf Coast University. Dr. Mel is passionate about empowering and educating women so they can be their own advocates and make the best-informed decisions regarding treatment options and quality of life. As a Sexual Medicine provider, she takes pride in providing high-quality personalized care to meet the sexual health needs of both men and women. Her interest in Sexual Medicine took her to San Diego, where she completed a preceptorship with the leading Sexual Medicine provider in the U.S., Dr. Irwin Goldstein. She is an avid learner and regularly attends educational training and conferences to stay current on the latest and most innovative treatment options.