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

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

As a fitness trainer, I have many discussions with my clients about performance-enhancing drugs, primarily the significant risks involved.

Many clients are curious because they see other people’s fast and massive muscle gains and know precisely how they got there, leaving them to wonder if they should try steroids too.

The risks of doping with an anabolic steroid are plenty. Still, my focus in sitting down with our medical professional was to learn if there is an increased cancer risk with steroids.

After a lengthy chat and extensive online research, I am ready to share what I learned.

Quick Summary

  • Anabolic steroid drug abuse comes with numerous health risks, including blood clots, cardiovascular disease, kidney and liver damage, suppressed immune system, and even cancer.
  • Many steroid users usually experience hormone imbalances because their bodies stop producing hormones naturally once they introduce manufactured versions like an anabolic androgenic steroid, the synthetic male hormone testosterone.
  • Most people use anabolic-androgenic steroids as performance-enhancing drugs or to improve their appearance.
Close up image of using a steroid in veins

Yes, there is a link between steroid use and cancer, as underscored by “Adverse Effects of Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids: A Literature Review” [1].

Anabolic steroid use may increase the risk of testicular cancer, particularly when combined with increased production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I), a hormone produced by the liver [2].

Research also continues to determine what impact anabolic steroids have on developing colorectal cancer [3].

Hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer, is emerging as a rare but significant consequence for those who use anabolic-androgenic steroids [4].

Why Do People Use Them?

A splash of steroid inside a syringe

People use steroids as performance-enhancing drugs or to improve their appearance, and contrary to popular belief, most are not elite athletes or bodybuilders [5].

Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) represent the synthetic form of the male hormone testosterone, which does several things in the body [6].

The most important functions are:

  • Anabolic: supports bone density, promotes muscle growth, and speeds up recovery from injury.
  • Androgenic: develops and maintains male characteristics (masculinizing) like muscle gains, deep voice, facial and body hair, testicles, and the penis.

Because the effects of anabolic steroids, like increased muscle strength, happen very quickly, people can train harder for more extended periods.

These effects offer more benefits for strength athletes doing sports like football, weightlifting, or shot put versus sports that require endurance, flexibility, speed, or agility.

Additionally, the androgenic effects are substantial, and people may use steroids as a confidence or self-esteem booster. Some users suffer from muscle dysmorphia, a preoccupation with inadequate or perceived muscle size [7].

It is important to note that steroids have legitimate medical uses to effectively treat diseases that cause muscle tissue damage, like HIV and cancer.

“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

How Do People Misuse Anabolic Steroids?

Stack of different steroid supplements

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 [8].

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 the impact on your body [9].

Here are just some ways steroid use can affect the body:

  • 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:

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 [10].

Steroid use increases the risk of developing a rare condition called peliosis hepatis, which causes blood-filled cysts on the liver [11].

Steroids can increase the fat deposits in the blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes [12].

Misusing anabolic-androgenic steroids can progress into the use of other drugs [13].

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.

So, Does Taking Anabolic Steroids Cause Cancer?

There are numerous risks with steroid use, and cancer could certainly be one of them. These risks do not outweigh any potential benefits.

However, you still have choices in boosting exercise performance or attaining that muscle gain or body composition that don’t include harming your body.

Plenty of great, all-natural legal steroid options doesn’t come with the typical risks of steroids. I’ve used them myself with great results, as many of my clients have.

Check out our list of the best bulking steroids to find the one that suits you the most.


References:

  1. https://www.mdpi.com/2227-9032/9/1/97/htm
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5922407/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31578582/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6558130/
  5. https://www.addictioncenter.com/stimulants/steroids/symptoms-signs/
  6. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/steroids
  7. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/steroids-other-appearance-performance-enhancing-drugs-apeds/why-are-anabolic-steroids-misused
  8. https://medlineplus.gov/anabolicsteroids.html
  9. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/anabolic-steroids
  10. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/anabolic-steroid-misuse/
  11. https://www.webmd.com/men/anabolic-steroids#091e9c5e80007fbe-1-2
  12. https://nida.nih.gov/sites/default/files/steroids.pdf
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2612649/
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