Testosterone increases breast cancer risk in women and prostate cancer risk in men

Testosterone increases breast cancer risk in women and prostate cancer risk in men

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Testosterone levels affect the risk of illness

Both men and women produce the sex hormone testosterone. Increased testosterone levels in women increase the risk of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, while the risk decreases in men. This is the result of the largest study to date on the regulation of sex hormone levels.

In a large-scale study, researchers at Cambridge University investigated how the hormone testosterone affects disease risks. It turned out on the one hand that the testosterone level influences metabolic diseases and on the other hand it plays a role in the development of certain types of cancer. The results were recently presented in the renowned journal "Nature Medicine".

Testosterone affects the sexes differently

A research team from the Epidemiology Department of the Medical Research Council (MRC) at Cambridge University and the University of Exeter came to the conclusion that testosterone levels work very differently in men and women.

According to the study, high testosterone levels in women are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, endometrial cancer and polycystic ovarian syndrome. In contrast, in men, when testosterone levels are elevated, the risk of type 2 diabetes decreases, but the risk of developing prostate cancer increases, according to the study results.

Data from over 400,000 people evaluated

The team analyzed the data from 425,097 people. The information came from the British biobank. The scientists found a total of 2,571 genetic variations that are related to differences in the level of the sex hormone testosterone and its binding protein (sex hormone binding globulin SHGB).

What are the risks?

According to the researchers, a genetically raised testosterone level in women is associated with a 37 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. The risk of developing polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) increases by 51 percent. In men, the risk of type 2 diabetes decreased by 14 percent if the testosterone level was genetically determined.

Increased testosterone is not just a result of PCOS

"Our findings that genetically increased testosterone levels increase the risk of PCOS in women are important to understand the role of testosterone in the development of this common disease," explains Dr. John Perry from the study team. Previously, it was thought that the increased testosterone level was a result of PCOS. This study suggests that hormones could be a cause.

Low testosterone levels protect against prostate cancer

"Testosterone-reducing therapies to treat prostate cancer are also widely used in men, but it was previously unclear whether lower testosterone levels would also protect against the development of prostate cancer," said Perry. The results now show that high testosterone levels are associated with an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

Testosterone affects disease risks

"Our results offer unique insights into the effects of testosterone on the development of diseases," adds Dr. Katherine Ruth from the University of Exeter added. The work in particular shows that men and women must be considered separately when it comes to hormones.

No free ticket for hormone therapies

However, the research team emphasizes that the study does not justify the use of testosterone supplements. In this context, too much is still unclear. For example, it still needs to be investigated what effects testosterone has on the heart and whether the hormone plays a role in the development of cardiovascular diseases. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Katherine S Ruth, Felix R Day, Jessica Tyrrell, et al .: Using human genetics to understand the disease impacts of testosterone in men and women; in: Nature Medicine, 2020,
  • University of Cambridge: Testosterone levels affect risk of metabolic disease and cancers (published: February 10th, 2020),

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