Do Muscle-Building Supplements Increase Testicular Cancer Risk?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Hidden ingredients or substances not listed on the labels of unregulated muscle-building supplements can be risky. A new study in the British Journal of Cancer found out how risky, and turns out, for testicular cancer it’s impressive. This matters because use of muscle-building supplements is increasing among younger men and rakes in billions of dollars.

What did we learn?

Men, especially 25 and younger, who use muscle-building supplements that contain creatine or androstenedione may have up to 65% increased risk of developing testicular cancer. If you used them longer, your risk was higher.

Why should we care?

Testicular cancer is the most common solid cancer in men aged 15 to 39 years. In 2014, the National Cancer Surveillance Program reported a substantial increase in testicular cancer among Hispanic adolescents and young adults in the United States. So far, we can’t explain this increase . . . that’s what makes this study on muscle building supplements so compelling.

What part of muscle-building supplements is bad?

Remember that these supplements are unregulated so we don’t really know what you are getting. Some ingredients in these supplements cause testis damage and some “natural components” could act like artificial hormones. Analysis in the British Journal of Cancer study found that using supplements containing creatine and proteins significantly increased the risk.

Haven’t we been warned about muscle-building supplements before?

Many many times. In 2013, thirty-two cases of liver failure were reported in Hawaii due to Oxy Elite Pro muscle building supplement. Again on April 13th of this year the FDA raised concerns about the use of Tri-Methyl Xtreme, which contains anabolic steroids that can cause serious liver injury. There are many more.

How did this study work?

This study included 356 men diagnosed with testicular cancer between 2006 and 2010 and 513 men without testicular cancer. Among other things, the interviewers asked about lifetime muscle-building supplement use (powders or pills). The interviews revealed that almost 20% of participants with testicular cancer had used muscle-building supplements, either pill or powder.
What were the risks of testicular cancer?

Men who had taken muscle-building supplements had significantly increased odds of developing testicular cancer. The risk was higher if you started using them before age 25 or used two or more types. Using them longer than 36 months also raised your risk even higher.

I’ve taken care of a 23 year old with liver failure from these supplements, who then survived only because of a liver transplant. Now, testicular cancer? Not worth it, not even close.

Dr O.

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