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Testosterone makes cancer more agressive

Men with cancer die more often than women with cancer, and that has everything to do with their testosterone. Testosterone makes tumors more aggressive, conclude American oncologists in epidemiological study. The research, which was published in PLoS One in 2013, does not imply that men with cancer should abandon their hopes for survival. But it does suggest that the long term use of anabolic steroids may be more risky than physicians already suspected.

American oncologists at the Danbury Hospital Research Institute collected data from two major American epidemiological projects. One of them is the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database [SEER]. In that project the American government collects the data from all Americans with cancer. Thanks to SEER, the researchers gained access to the data of almost 1.2 million cancer patients.

In addition, the researchers used data collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey [NHANES-3].

The data from the SEER database showed that male cancer patients aged 17-61 are more likely to die than women with cancer. In all figures below, 1 is the probability that female cancer patients will die.

Testosterone makes cancer more agressive

Using data from NHANES-3, the researchers found a correlation between the amount of free testosterone in the blood of men with cancer and their chance of death.

Testosterone makes cancer more agressive

Below you see the same data, but then broken down by age. You are looking at the relationship between the chance of death in male cancer patients and age, and the relationship between the concentration of free testosterone and age. Both curves overlap.

Testosterone makes cancer more agressive

The researchers looked at a total of 65 values in the blood of the cancer patients. There was no one who could predict the mortality rate as well as free testosterone.

The publication of the researchers is called "Free testosterone drives cancer aggressiveness" - and that is also the conclusion that the researchers draw form their study: because of their hormones, men with cancer are less likely to survive their illness than women. If you know a little about the way testosterone inhibits the immune system, that is not surprising.

The extent of the testosterone effect is relatively small, if you compare it with lifestyle factors such as exercise and obesity. The take home message of this study is therefore not that men with cancer should abandon all hope.

What you can deduce from this research is that the long term use of anabolic steroids may be more risky than physicians already suspected. If this is the effect of natural concentrations of testosterone, what will be the effect of the supraphysiological concentrations of synthetic androgens found in steroids users?

PLoS One. 2013 Apr 24;8(4):e61955.

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