The role of steroid hormones in prostate carcinogenesis

J Natl Cancer Inst Monogr. 2000;(27):39-66. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.jncimonographs.a024244.


Carcinoma of the prostate is the most frequently diagnosed malignancy and the second leading cause of death as a result of cancer in men in the United States and in many other Western countries. Notwithstanding the importance of this malignancy, little is understood about its causes. The epidemiology of prostate cancer strongly suggests that environmental factors, particularly diet and nutrition, are major determinants of risk for this disease, and evidence is mounting that there are important genetic risk factors for prostate cancer. Human prostate carcinomas are often androgen sensitive and react to hormonal therapy by temporary remission, followed by relapse to an androgen-insensitive state. These well-established features of prostate cancer strongly suggest that steroid hormones, particularly androgens, play a major role in human prostatic carcinogenesis, but the precise mechanisms by which androgens affect this process are unknown. In addition, the possible involvement of estrogenic hormones is not entirely clear. The purpose of this overview is to summarize the literature about steroid hormonal factors, androgens and estrogens, and prostate carcinogenesis. From these literature observations, a multifactorial general hypothesis of prostate carcinogenesis emerges with androgens as strong tumor promoters acting via androgen receptor-mediated mechanisms to enhance the carcinogenic activity of strong endogenous genotoxic carcinogens, such as reactive estrogen metabolites and estrogen- and prostatitis-generated reactive oxygen species and possible weak environmental carcinogens of unknown nature. In this hypothesis, all of these processes are modulated by a variety of environmental factors such as diet and by genetic determinants such as hereditary susceptibility and polymorphic genes that encode for steroid hormone receptors and enzymes involved in the metabolism and action of steroid hormones.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / genetics
  • Androgens / metabolism
  • Androgens / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Carcinoma / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma / genetics
  • Carcinoma / metabolism*
  • Diet
  • Estrogens / genetics
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Steroid / genetics
  • Risk Factors


  • Androgens
  • Estrogens
  • Receptors, Steroid