The incidence of prostate cancer varies widely between countries and ethnic groups. Black-Americans have the highest incidence rates world wide, whereas native Japanese have among the lowest. The reasons for this risk differential are unknown, although we have previously shown that higher circulating testosterone concentrations in young adult black men compared with young adult white men may explain the underlying differences in subsequent prostate cancer incidence between these two populations. We have now compared serum testosterone concentrations in young adult Japanese men with those of young adult whites and blacks, but found no significant differences. However, these white and black men had significantly higher values of 3 alpha, 17 beta androstanediol glucuronide (31% and 25% higher, respectively) and androsterone glucuronide (50% and 41% higher, respectively) than Japanese subjects. These two androgens are indices of 5 alpha-reductase activity. Our results raise the possibility that reduced 5 alpha-reductase activity has a role in producing the low prostate cancer incidence rates among Japanese. This finding may have important implications for prostate cancer prevention.