Serum testosterone levels after medical or surgical androgen deprivation: a comprehensive review of the literature

Urol Oncol. 2014 Jan;32(1):38.e17-28. doi: 10.1016/j.urolonc.2013.03.007. Epub 2013 Jun 13.


Androgens and the androgen receptor play a role in the progression of prostate cancer. Androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) is a mainstay in the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer. ADT is expected to reduce serum testosterone levels from a normal level of about 500 to 600 ng/dl (17.3-20.8 nmol) down to castration levels. Traditionally, castration was considered to be achieved if testosterone levels were lowered to a threshold of 50 ng/dl (1.73 nmol/l), a definition determined more by measurement methods derived from the use of old assay methods than by evidence. Serum testosterone levels in three-quarter patients after surgical castration drop to less than 20 ng/dl (0.69 nmol/l). Ineffective suppression of testosterone is currently poorly recognized and may possibly have an effect of prostate cancer mortality. Persistent levels of serum testosterone after castration are mainly derived from adrenal androgens. Furthermore, the arrival of new therapies targeting androgen synthesis and androgen receptor activity has renewed interest on serum testosterone. This review discusses the biosynthetic pathway for androgen synthesis in humans and provides a comprehensive review of serum testosterone levels after surgical or medical castration. This review assesses serum testosterone levels after surgical castration and different pharmacologic castration in patients with prostate cancer under ADT, and ineffective testosterone suppression. The author proposes methods to better lower serum testosterone levels during ADT.

Keywords: Androgen deprivation therapy; Androgen metabolism; Prostate cancer; Serum testosterone.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Androgen Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Androgens / metabolism
  • Androstenes
  • Androstenols / therapeutic use
  • Benzamides
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nitriles
  • Orchiectomy*
  • Phenylthiohydantoin / analogs & derivatives
  • Phenylthiohydantoin / therapeutic use
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / blood*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / surgery
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism
  • Testosterone / blood*


  • Androgen Antagonists
  • Androgens
  • Androstenes
  • Androstenols
  • Benzamides
  • Nitriles
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Phenylthiohydantoin
  • Testosterone
  • enzalutamide
  • abiraterone