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Hormonal therapy a safe, long term option for older women with recalcitrant acne


AT PDA 2022

– During her dermatology residency training at the University of California, Irvine, Medical Center, Jenny Murase, MD, remembers hearing a colleague say that her most angry patients of the day were adult women with recalcitrant acne who present to the clinic with questions like, “My skin has been clear my whole life! What’s going on?”

Such expressions of frustration may partly stem from the fact that high acne treatment failure rates occur in women over the age of 25. In fact, 82% fail multiple courses of systemic antibiotics and 32% relapse after using isotretinoin, Dr. Murase, director of medical dermatology consultative services and patch testing at the Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group, said at the annual meeting of the Pacific Dermatologic Association.

In her clinical experience, hormonal therapy is a safe long-term option for recalcitrant acne in postmenarcheal females over the age of 14. “Although oral antibiotics are going to be superior to hormonal therapy in the first month or two, when you get to about six months, they have equivalent efficacy,” she said.

Mandibular acne on a woman's face Obencem/Thinkstock

Telltale signs of acne associated with androgen excess include the development of nodulocystic papules along the jawline and small comedones over the forehead. Female patients with acne may request that labs be ordered to check their hormone levels, but that often is not necessary, according to Dr. Murase, who is also associate clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco. “There aren’t strict guidelines to indicate when you should perform hormonal testing, but warning signs that warrant further evaluation include hirsutism, androgenetic alopecia, virilization, infertility, oligomenorrhea or amenorrhea, and sudden onset of severe acne. The most common situation that warrants hormonal testing is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).”

When there is a strong suspicion for hyperandrogenism, essential labs include free and total testosterone. Free testosterone is commonly elevated in patients with PCOS and total testosterone levels over 200 ng/dL is suggestive of an ovarian tumor. Other essential labs include 17-hyydroxyprogesterone (values greater than 200 ng/dL indicate congenital adrenal hyperplasia), and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S); levels over 8,000 mcg/dL indicate an adrenal tumor, while levels in the 4,000-8,000 mcg/dL range indicate congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

Helpful lab tests to consider include the ratio of luteinizing hormone to follicle-stimulating hormone; a 3:1 ratio or greater is suggestive for PCOS. “Ordering a prolactin level can also help, especially if patients are describing issues with headaches, which could indicate a pituitary tumor,” Dr. Murase added. Measuring sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) levels can also be helpful. “If a patient has been on oral contraceptives for a long time, it increases their SHBG,” which, in older women, she said, “is inversely related to the development of type 2 diabetes.”

All labs for hyperandrogenism should be performed early in the morning on day 3 of the patient’s menstrual cycle. “If patients are on some kind of hormonal therapy, they need to be off of it for at least 6 weeks in order for you get a relevant test,” she said. Other relevant labs to consider include fasting glucose and lipids, cortisol, and thyroid-stimulating hormone.


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