Epidemiological evidence suggests that the incidence and death rate from prostatic cancer, an endocrine-associated disease, are related to environmental factors including diet. In this study, a comparison of serum and urinary levels of steroid hormones was carried out in healthy elderly rural vegetarian South African black men, a low-risk population, and a comparable group of men with prostatic cancer.

In these prostatic cancer patients, plasma androgen levels decreased, while estrogen levels increased. Concomitantly, the androsterone:etiocholanolone ratio increased, and a greater proportion of estrogens was excreted as estriol.

When transferred to a Western diet, plasma androgens showed a further decrease and a greater increase in estrone in prostatic cancer patients. In prostatic cancer patients, the total urinary androgen and estrogen levels were unaltered. However, in elderly healthy men, the Western diet decreased the excretion of estrogens and androgens.

Thus, a Western diet supplemented the decrease in plasma androgens initially present in these patients. Evidence suggests that the decrease in plasma androgens increases the estrogen:androgen ratio, which may lead to hyperplasia of the prostatic ductal epithelia, a change enhanced by a Western diet. Changes in urinary steroid hormone levels in South African black patients comparable to those reported in white prostatic cancer patients indicate that hormonal changes must be related to several environmental factors, apart from diet. A simultaneous study of the steroid hormone composition of blood and prostatic fluid in this low-risk population is suggested.

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Supported by National Cancer Institute Contract 65818.

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