The "male menopause" has been ridiculed as an excuse for men behaving badly in middle age, but the condition is a real one. Now more than two million sufferers have been given hope of a safe cure. For years, testosterone replacement treatment (TRT) – the most effective known medication for what is officially the andropause – had been linked to prostate cancer. But today clinicians will announce that research has found no link, meaning that for the first time doctors will be able to recommend the treatment without fear.
The 15-year study of 1,500 patients by the Institute of Urology at University College Hospital, London, disproved the link and found that raising testosterone levels could in fact be beneficial to the prostate.
The condition, also known as testosterone deficiency syndrome, causes sufferers – predominantly men aged 50 or over – to experience extreme tiredness, depression, weight gain, brain fog, memory loss, sleep disturbance or lower sex drive. Erectile dysfunction can also be a symptom, although for many the only obvious symptom is fatigue.
Although it affects millions of men, including untold numbers in their thirties and forties, just 1 per cent of those suffering from the male menopause are diagnosed.
The new research removes a major obstacle to treating what doctors say is the most common hormonal disturbance among men. Testosterone treatment is available on the NHS, but it is very scarcely used and cannot be prescribed by GPs, partly because of the fears about cancer.
The research breakthrough comes at the start of Britain's first ever Andropause Awareness Week, at the same time as scientists and clinicians gather in Munich to discuss advances in knowledge and treatment.
Several high-profile men have been diagnosed with the condition recently. The singer Robbie Williams was diagnosed earlier this year and record producer Pete Waterman and opera singer Ian Storey are also sufferers.
The Andropause Society's chief executive, Paul Pennington, who himself has the condition, said: "It is extremely gratifying to know we can finally remove one of the obstacles that has seemingly prevented the medical profession from treating this common hormonal disturbance in men, which can wreck their lives, loves and health. Unfortunately, the views about the dangers of TRT are about 20 years out of date. The experience of clinicians has shown that rather than being dangerous, carefully regulated and monitored TRT has been shown to be remarkably safe."
Low testosterone is associated with diabetes, heart failure, obesity and osteoporosis. Doctors believe that raising levels of the hormone could help reduce the incidence of these conditions.
Dr Malcolm Carruthers, one of the authors of the University College Hospital research, said: "This myth that TRT was linked to prostate cancer has persisted. It arose from research in the 1940s based on very few cases. It has stopped so many men from getting testosterone treatment."
Dr Carruthers said that doctors still need to be more open to diagnosing the condition. He said: "At the minute, the condition is neither recognised nor treated, despite the fact that it wrecks men's lives and results in misery on a large scale that could easily be prevented and treated."
Case study: Gordon Watson, 76, from Doncaster
"Two years ago I started getting short of breath and feeling very tired. I spent a year having every test imaginable. I was getting up at 9 and would be back in bed by 11am, tired out. I couldn't eat my dinner and I felt physically and mentally tired.
"Then I had a testosterone test and it came back as quite low. I'm a diabetic, and the doctor said low testosterone affects me more. At that point I thought the prostate issue was a risk, but I was willing to take it. I noticed the difference in 48 hours. Now I have injections of testosterone every 10 weeks and I'm great, I am back going on five-mile walks again."