Can Anabolic Steroids Cause Cancer? (According to a Doctor)

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD
Published by Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD | Medical Doctor
Last updated: April 2, 2024
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As a pathologist with a deep understanding of the physiological impacts of drugs, I've studied the effects of performance-enhancing drugs, particularly the significant risks they pose.

From a medical perspective, I've observed a growing curiosity about steroids due to their visible effects on muscle gains, leading many to question their safety and efficacy.

Having researched extensively on anabolic steroids, I understand their numerous risks, including the potential increased risk of cancer.

Drawing from my medical background and comprehensive research, I am equipped to share insights on this topic.

Quick Summary

  • Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) have been linked to an increased risk of various cancers, including liver, testicular, and colorectal cancer.
  • AAS can cause significant DNA damage and hormonal imbalances, contributing to carcinogenic processes and cancer development.
  • The National Library of Medicine reports that anabolic steroid misuse often involves dosages up to 100 times higher than medically prescribed, highlighting the extent of abuse and associated health risks.
  • In my professional experience, the risks associated with steroid use, including cancer, outweigh any potential benefits; exploring natural and legal alternatives is a safer approach.
Close up image of using a steroid in veins

Yes, there is a link between anabolic-androgenic steroid (AAS) use and cancer, as underscored by “Adverse Effects of Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids: A Literature Review”, published in the Healthcare journal [1].

Several pathways through which AAS may lead to cancer have been identified, as reported in the Oncotarget journal [2].

Key among these are:

  • AAS can cause significant DNA damage, a key contributor to carcinogenic processes.
  • AAS can influence telomerase activity, which is crucial in cellular aging and cancer development, by altering its expression and function.
  • AAS abuse can lead to hormonal imbalances that may contribute to cancer development.
  • Steroids can induce testicular damage by triggering oxidative stress and interfering with testis development, morphology, and function.
  • Some steroids activate specific cell pathways, triggering abnormal cell growth and tumor formation.

In my review of research, including studies from the Oncology Report journal, I've delved into the potential impact of anabolic steroids on colorectal cancer development [3].

Moreover, from a pathologist's perspective, I've noted that hepatocellular carcinoma, a prevalent liver cancer, is increasingly recognized as a rare yet significant risk associated with anabolic-androgenic steroid use [4].

How Do People Misuse Anabolic Steroids?

Stack of different steroid supplements

Steroids have legitimate medical applications in treating diseases like HIV and cancer, despite potential risks like muscle dysmorphia.

Still, steroids are often misused for performance enhancement or appearance and are mainly adopted by non-elite athletes.

“Common uses for steroids include improving performance in athletics, increasing muscle mass in strength athletes, and preserving muscle mass in those with muscle-wasting diseases.”

- Daniel Preiato, RD, CSCS

Anabolic steroid misuse can be done by either taking tablets or injecting the steroid directly into muscle by as much as 100 times the amount prescribed for valid medical purposes, as stated in the article published in the National Library of Medicine [5].

Standard practices for misusing steroids include the following:

  • Cycling: using steroids for a while, stopping, and then restarting their steroid cycle to keep gains
  • Stacking: combining two or more different steroids, which can be done orally or by injection
  • Pyramiding: slowly increasing a steroid dose or frequency, reaching a peak amount, and then gradually tapering off to zero
  • Plateauing: substituting, overlapping, or alternating with another steroid in an attempt to sidestep steroid tolerance

Side Effects

A man with a heartache

If you use steroids, you must understand their impact on your body, besides the potential development of cancer.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, here are just some ways steroid use can affect the body [6]:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver Tumors
  • Suppression of the Immune system
  • Enlarged heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Decreased natural hormone levels

Men:

  • Shrinking testicles
  • Breast development
  • Hair loss/male-pattern baldness
  • Decreased sperm count
  • Increased risk for prostate cancer

Women:

  • Excessive body hair
  • Facial hair growth
  • Decreased breast size
  • Hair loss/male-pattern baldness
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Deepened voice
  • Enlarged clitoris

Teens:

  • Stunted growth
  • Stunted height (if used before a typical teenage growth spurt)

Psychological:

  • Aggression
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Manic behavior

Related Articles:

Additional Warnings

Close up image of a syringe

If you inject steroids, like with recreational drug abuse, and share the needle, there is a tremendous risk of hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, and vein damage, which can lead to ulcers or gangrene [7].

Steroid use increases the risk of developing a rare condition called peliosis hepatis, which causes blood-filled cysts on the liver, according to WebMD [8].

Steroids can increase the fat deposits in the blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes [9].

A 2008 study published in the Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy journal states that misusing anabolic-androgenic steroids can progress to the use of other drugs [10].

FAQs

Can Anabolic Steroids Cause Permanent Damage?

Anabolic steroids can cause permanent damage like kidney failure, liver damage, enlarged heart, stroke, and heart attack.

The risk of permanent bodily damage increases for those who use anabolic steroids for long periods at high doses.

Can Anabolic Steroids Shorten Your Life?

Anabolic steroids can shorten your life because they can cause high blood pressure, blood cholesterol changes, kidney and liver problems, and enlarged heart, all of which increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The risk of life-shortening effects of anabolic-androgenic steroids increases with long-term use and high doses.


References:

  1. https://www.mdpi.com/2227-9032/9/1/97
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29721213/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31578582/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6558130/
  5. https://medlineplus.gov/anabolicsteroids.html
  6. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/anabolic-steroids
  7. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/anabolic-steroid-misuse/
  8. https://www.webmd.com/men/anabolic-steroids#091e9c5e80007fbe-1-2
  9. https://nida.nih.gov/sites/default/files/steroids.pdf
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2612649/
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About The Author

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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