The most serious complication of anabolic steroid use is the development of hepatic tumors, either adenoma or hepatocellular carcinoma. The hepatic tumors arise in patients on long term androgenic steroids, usually during therapy of aplastic anemia or hypogonadism, but occasionally in athletes or body builders using anabolic steroids illicitly. Tumors are typically found after 5 to 15 years of use, but onset within 2 years of starting therapy with testerosterone esters has been described. Many of the case reports have occurred in patients with other risk factors for cancer, such as Fanconi?s syndrome, iron overload or chronic hepatitis C (from blood transfusions). However, hepatic adenomas and hepatocellular carcinoma have also been described in patients taking androgenic steroids who have no other evidence of liver disease and normal histology in the nontumor parts of the liver. The pathology of the tumors is usually hepatic adenoma or ?well differentiated? hepatocellular carcinoma or hepatic adenoma with areas of malignant transformation. Rare instances of cholangiocarcinoma and angiosarcoma have also been described in patients on long term androgenic steroids. Clinical presentation is generally with right upper quadrant discomfort and a hepatic mass found clinically or on imaging studies. Routine liver tests are often normal unless there is extensive spread or rupture or an accompanying liver disease. Alphafetoprotein levels are usually normal. There is often (but not always) spontaneous regression in the tumor when the anabolic steroids are stopped. Hepatocellular carcinoma arising during anabolic steroid therapy is believed to have a better prognosis than that related to cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis B and C; however, deaths from hepatic rupture or tumor spread and metastasis have been reported in patients with anabolic steroid related hepatocellular carcinoma without cirrhosis.
Another point I’d like to make for people worried about a link between high testosterone and prostate cancer is that it just doesn’t make sense. Prostate cancer becomes more prevalent in men as they age, and that’s also when their testosterone levels decline. We almost never see it in men in their peak testosterone years, in their 20s for instance. We know from autopsy studies that 8% of men in their 20s already have tiny prostate cancers, so if testosterone really made prostate cancer grow so rapidly — we used to talk about it like it was pouring gasoline on a fire — we should see some appreciable rate of prostate cancer in men in their 20s. We don’t. So, I’m no longer worried that giving testosterone to men will make their hidden cancer grow, because I’m convinced that it doesn’t happen.