The mechanism of action of estrogen in castration-resistant prostate cancer: Clues from hormone levels

Rahul Aggarwal, Vivian Weinberg, Eric J. Small, William Oh, Robert Rushakoff, Charles J. Ryan

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25 Scopus citations


Background: Estrogen therapy plays a role in the management of castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), although the mechanism of action is not fully known. This current analysis reports the relationship of change in adrenal androgen levels and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) response in patients with CRPC treated with estrogen therapy. Patients and Methods: Hormone levels were measured for patients with CRPC treated in a multicenter phase II trial of 2 estrogen-containing compounds, the herbal supplement PC-SPES and diethylstilbestrol (DES), with known efficacy in CRPC. Patients with castrate levels of testosterone were randomized to initially receive either PC-SPES 960 mg t.i.d. or DES 3 mg/day. Levels of testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), estradiol, estrone, sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), DHEA-sulfate (DHEA-S), and androstenedione were obtained at baseline and at 12-week intervals until disease progression. Hormone levels were obtained for 38 patients, 20 treated with PC-SPES and 18 treated with DES. Results: Significant declines between baseline and 12 weeks of treatment were observed in levels of serum testosterone (P < .001), estrone (P = .02), and DHEA (P < .001). The percent changes at 12 weeks in these hormone levels were inversely proportional to baseline values as measured by Spearman's rank correlation (testosterone: -0.41, P = .01; estrone: -0.64, P = .0001; DHEA: -0.39, P = .02). Levels of SHBG increased in almost all of the patients (97%), with a median percent increase of > 5-fold (P < .0001). Of the 38 evaluable patients, 15 (39% [95% CI, 24%-57%]) experienced a > 50% decline in PSA level. There was no significant difference between treatment groups or between responders and nonresponders in baseline distributions for any of the hormones. At follow-up, 73% of the responders had a decline in the level of DHEA-S compared with 41% of the nonresponders, resulting in a difference in the distribution of the percent change between the subsets (Mann-Whitney test: P = .03). Conversely, 64% of the responders compared with 30% of the nonresponders experienced an increase in DHT, with differing distributions of percent change (P = .02). Conclusion: Androgens decline in response to estrogen therapy. A decline in DHEA-S and a rise in DHT are both associated with a decline in PSA while patients receive estrogen therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E71-E76
JournalClinical Genitourinary Cancer
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Adrenal androgens
  • Castration resistance
  • Hormone levels
  • Secondary hormonal therapy


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