Activities of several steroid metabolizing enzymes (steroid sulfate-sulfatase, 17 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, 5 alpha-reductase, and 3 alpha beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase) as well as total tissue content and subcellular distribution (nuclear-extranuclear) of several androgen precursors, active androgens, and androgen deactivation products (DHEA sulfate, DHEA, 5-androstenediol, 4-androstenedione, testosterone, DHT, and 3 alpha-androstanediol) were quantified in primary tumors and lymph node metastases of human prostatic cancer obtained from patients without previous endocrine manipulation. Primary tumors were compared to benign parts of the same prostates, and the metastases were compared to their primary tumors. All enzymes and steroids found in benign prostatic tissues could also be detected in the malignant tissues. Even the capacity to accumulate active androgens in the nuclei was found to be unchanged in nearly all of the samples. Lower activities of hormone-dependent enzymes were observed in the cancers, suggesting a less efficient utilization of hormonal stimuli. Most striking changes found in the malignant tissues were a subtotal loss of 5 alpha-reductase activity and a metabolic shift to testosterone, which was more pronounced in samples from metastatic disease as compared to samples from non-metastatic disease. In conclusion, primary tumors and metastases of prostatic cancers not treated by endocrine manipulations retain their androgen receptor system and possess the same capacity to metabolize adrenal androgen precursors along the pathway to DHT as benign prostatic tissue. Consequently, they should be able to use at least androstenedione for production of active androgens directly in the target tissue.