Study to Look At Possible Link Between Prostate Cancer And Estrogen Metabolism

By Lois Baker

Release Date: May 1, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The first investigation of the role of estrogen metabolism in the development of prostate cancer will begin at the University at Buffalo in October, funded by a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Army's Medical Research and Material Command.

The 30-month study will determine if differences in estrogen metabolism exist between healthy men and men who develop prostate cancer. Information on lifestyle habits also will be collected to determine if, as suspected, these habits affect whether estrogen breaks down into a potent product that may induce prostate-cell division, or a weak version that acts to discourage it.

This never-before-examined mechanism represents a potential new avenue of strategies to prevent this important disease, said Paola Muti, M.D., UB assistant professor of social and preventive medicine and lead investigator on the research. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 39,200 men will die of the disease in 1998 in the U.S.

"Estrogen metabolism has never been studied in men, especially in relation to prostate-cancer risk," Muti said. "Yet, men also produce estrogen, and we know that estrogen plays a role in the development of cancers in women. There is evidence also that androgens, the group of hormones responsible for male characteristics that are present in small amounts in women, are increased in women who develop breast cancer later in life."

Muti's goal is to determine if estrogen metabolism is influenced by environment and lifestyle in a way that increases prostate-cancer risk. The increase in prostate-cancer deaths among men who emigrate from countries with low rates to the United States, where rates are high, suggests that environmental factors play a dominate role in the disease, she said.

"There is evidence that a sedentary life style and high-fat diet influence estrogen metabolism to produce a potent estrogen, while an active life style and low-fat diet induce production of a weak estrogen. Potent estrogens may increase prostate-cell division and increase cancer risk. It's possible that the influence of these lifestyle factors on hormone metabolism, especially estrogen metabolism, could be the link between environment and prostate-cancer risk."