The Evidence as it Now Stands
For over sixty-five years, there has been a fear that testosterone therapy will cause new prostate cancers to arise or hidden ones to grow. Although no large-scale studies have yet been performed to provide a definitive verdict on the safety of testosterone therapy, it is quite remarkable to discover that the long-standing fear about testosterone and prostate cancer has little scientific support. The old concepts, taken as gospel, do not stand up to critical examination. I believe the best summary about the risk of prostate cancer from testosterone therapy, based on published evidence at the time this book is written, is as follows:

Low blood levels of testosterone do not protect against prostate cancer and, indeed, may increase the risk.

High blood levels of testosterone do not increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Treatment with testosterone does not increase the risk of prostate cancer, even among men who are already at high risk for it.

In men who do have metastatic prostate cancer and who have been given treatment that drops their blood levels of testosterone to near zero, starting treatment with testosterone (or stopping treatment that has lowered their testosterone to near zero) might increase the risk that residual cancer will again start to grow.


Prostate cancer with infiltration into bladder, lymph nodes, and urethra.

One of the most important and reassuring studies regarding testosterone and prostate cancer was an article published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2008, in which the authors of eighteen separate studies from around the world pooled their data regarding the likelihood of developing prostate cancer based on concentrations of various hormones, including testosterone. This enormous study included more than 3,000 men with prostate cancer and more than 6,000 men without prostate cancer, who served as controls in the study. No relationship was found between prostate cancer and any of the hormones studied, including total testosterone, free testosterone, or other minor androgens. In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Carpenter and colleagues from the University of North Carolina School of Public Health suggest scientists finally move beyond the long-believed but unsupported view that high testosterone is a risk for prostate cancer.

More and more physicians are coming around to recognize that testosterone therapy is not a true risk for prostate cancer, but it can take many years to alter established beliefs. Donít be surprised if your own doctor still raises this issue with you if you are considering testosterone therapy. If he objects to treating you for that reason, you should refer him to the article above, or one of the other review articles listed in the References at the back of this book. Even better, have him read this chapter!

Q. Iím fifty-three years old and Iíve been on testosterone therapy for two years, with good results. However, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age seventy-five. Does this mean I need to stop testosterone?

A. There is a familial form of prostate cancer, but only in families in which prostate cancer occurs at age sixty-five or younger. Even in those families where a family member develops cancer at a young age, this does not necessarily mean that every other male in the family will develop cancer. Men with a family history of prostate cancer should be sure to have a yearly PSA and prostate exam. There is no need to discontinue testosterone treatment.

Q. My physician started me on testosterone, but I never had a prostate biopsy. I am sixty-four years old. Was this a mistake?

A. Because there is no evidence that testosterone treatment increases the risk of prostate cancer, it is fine to begin therapy as long as your PSA and DRE are normal. My own practice is to recommend prostate biopsy in men with low testosterone because our published data indicate there is an increased risk that cancer is already present in men with low testosterone, but this is by no means a standard recommendation yet among physicians.

Q. Why do you perform prostate biopsies on men with low testosterone if you donít feel that testosterone treatment will make a hidden cancer grow?

A. Because so many men with prostate cancer will not die from it, even without treatment, there is a fair amount of controversy over how aggressive to be in making the diagnosis. My perspective is that it is worth knowing the diagnosis, whether or not one chooses to be treated immediately. And because low testosterone seems to represent a small but definite increased risk, I feel that biopsy in men over fifty with low testosterone is worthwhile.

Q. A man in my bowling league was started on testosterone treatment and then developed prostate cancer one year later. Doesnít that show that testosterone is risky for prostate cancer?

A. If the wife of this man had switched to a new type of laundry detergent before the cancer was diagnosed, would we assume the cancer was caused by the detergent? Of course not. But we are predisposed to believe that testosterone therapy causes prostate cancer, so it is easy to hear a story like this and assume that testosterone therapy caused the cancer. Prostate cancer and testosterone therapy are both common in the United States, and both tend to occur in the same age range, so there will always be stories of men developing cancer some time after beginning testosterone therapy. If testosterone really made prostate cancers grow, then we should see high rates of cancer among men who start testosterone therapy. But we donít. Itís false logic.

Q. Isnít it true that all men would eventually get prostate cancer if they lived long enough? If so, why does it even matter if testosterone were to increase the risk of something that is inevitable anyway?

A. Men do get prostate cancer at an increasingly high rate as they age. And it is true that most men diagnosed with prostate cancer would never have a momentís trouble from it, even if it were left untreated, because most of these cancers grow so slowly that other medical conditions eventually become more troublesome. Yet for those with more aggressive forms of prostate cancer, the danger is very real. The challenge is to identify men at risk, because even high-grade prostate cancer is curable when caught early.

Q. It took more than thirty years for scientists to learn that hormones were dangerous for women and caused breast cancer. Isnít it possible weíll eventually find out the same is true for testosterone and prostate cancer?


Abraham Morgentaler, MD


A. The fear that hormone therapy is dangerous in women is currently being reevaluated, and it appears to not be as dangerous as was originally proclaimed. More to the point, it is critical to understand that men are not women and that testosterone is not estrogen. Anyone, particularly a scientist, must always allow for the possibility that new information will one day change current views. But after so much research over so many decades, there is little reason to believe that testosterone therapy poses a major risk for prostate cancer. As a medical student once said to me, ďIf testosterone is really so dangerous for prostate cancer, why is it so hard to show it?Ē

Abraham Morgentaler, MD, is an associate clinical professor of urology at Harvard Medical School, and is the founder of Menís Health Boston, a center focusing on sexual and reproductive health for men. He is the author of a number of popular books including The Male Body and The Viagra Myth.

Excerpted with permission from Testosterone for Life: Recharge Your Sex Drive, Muscle Mass, Energy and Overall Health by Abraham Morgentaler, MD, FACS. Published by McGraw-Hill.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension Health Advisor at 1-800-226-2370.

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