Growth hormone and prostate cancer: guilty by association?

Grimberg A, Cohen P.


Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, USA.

Recent case-control studies have found a 7-8% increase in the serum levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I in patients with prostate cancer (CaP), the most frequently diagnosed cancer in men. We hereby review what is currently known about growth hormone (GH) and the IGF axis in CaP, take a closer inspection of the studies published to date reporting IGF-I levels in CaP patients, and derive implications for the future medical management of patients receiving trophic hormone therapies as well as those at risk for developing CaP. The role of GH in controlling prostate growth and carcinogenesis is still unclear from animal studies and human disease patterns. However, multilayered perturbations of the IGF axis, including the autocrine production of IGFs, IGF binding proteins (IGFBPs) and IGFBP proteases, such as prostate-specific antigen, have been identified in CaP cells and tissues. Interestingly, IGFBP-3 is a potent inhibitor of prostatic IGF action and also mediates prostate apoptosis via an IGF-independent mechanism. Serum IGFBP-3 levels have been identified to be negatively correlated to the risk of CaP. Notably, GH therapy raises both IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels in serum. Conclusions based on the studies of IGF-I levels in CaP patients are affected by both the populations studied and the types of IGF-I assay employed. While the studies do indicate an association between serum IGF-I levels and CaP risk, causality has not been established. Thus, serum IGF-I level may actually be a confounding variable, serving as a marker for local prostatic IGF-I production. Increased GH levels as seen in acromegaly have been associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia but not with CaP. Thus, serum IGF-I may lead to an ascertainment bias among younger men with benign prostatic hyperplasia who are more likely to present with prostatic symptoms and have subclinical CaP diagnosed. Should serum IGF-I levels be proven to play a causal role in the pathogenesis of CaP, interpreting the risk associated with therapies such as GH must take into account both the duration of exposure and the risk magnitude associated with the degree of serum IGF-I elevation. Since GH-deficient patients often have a subnormal IGF-I serum level, which normalizes on therapy, their CaP risk on GH therapy probably does not increase substantially above that of the normal population. Until further research in the area dictates otherwise, ongoing surveillance and routine monitoring of IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels in GH recipients must become standard of care.