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Keywords:

  • challenge hypothesis;
  • cross-cultural variation;
  • male reproductive physiology;
  • prostate cancer;
  • testosterone

Abstract

An accumulation of evidence suggests that increased exposure to androgens is associated with prostate cancer risk. The unrestricted energy budget that is typical of Western diets represents a novel departure from the conditions in which men's steroid physiology evolved and is capable of supporting distinctly elevated testosterone levels. Although nutritional constraints likely underlie divergent patterns of testosterone secretion between Westernized and non-Western men, considerable variability exists in men's testosterone levels and prostate cancer rates within Westernized populations. Here, I use evolutionary life history theory as a framework to examine prostate cancer risk. Life history theory posits trade-offs between investment in early reproduction and long-term survival. One corollary of life history theory is the ‘challenge hypothesis’, which predicts that males augment testosterone levels in response to intrasexual competition occurring within reproductive contexts. Understanding men's evolved steroid physiology may contribute toward understanding susceptibility to prostate cancer. Among well-nourished populations of Westerners, men's testosterone levels already represent an outlier of cross-cultural variation. I hypothesize that Westernized men in aggressive social environments, characterized by intense male–male competition, will further augment testosterone production aggravating prostate cancer risk.