Some of the approved drugs are synthetic versions of the natural hormones, such as trenbolone acetate and zeranol. Just like the natural hormone implants, before FDA approved these drugs, FDA required information and/or toxicological testing in laboratory animals to determine safe levels in the animal products that we eat (edible tissues). Furthermore, FDA required that the manufacturers demonstrate that the amount of hormone left in each edible tissue after treatment is below the appropriate safe level. As described above, a safe level is a level which would be expected to have no harmful effect in humans.
Anabolic steroid and peptide hormones or growth factors are utilized to increase the performance of athletes of professional or amateur sports. Despite their well-documented adverse effects, the use of some of these agents has significantly grown and has been extended also to non-athletes with the aim to improve appearance or to counteract ageing. Pre-clinical studies and epidemiological observations in patients with an excess of hormone production or in patients chronically treated with hormones/growth factors for various pathologies have warned about the potential risk of cancer development and progression which may be also associated to the use of certain doping agents. Anabolic steroids have been described to provoke liver tumours; growth hormone or high levels of its mediator insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) have been associated with colon, breast, and prostate cancers. Actually, IGF-1 promotes cell cycle progression and inhibits apoptosis either by triggering other growth factors or by interacting with pathways which have an established role in carcinogenesis and cancer promotion. More recently, the finding that erythropoietin (Epo) may promote angiogenesis and inhibit apoptosis or modulate chemo- or radiosensitivity in cancer cells expressing the Epo receptor, raised the concern that the use of recombinant Epo to increase tissue oxygenation might favour tumour survival and aggressiveness. Cancer risk associated to doping might be higher than that of patients using hormones/growth factors as replacement therapy, since enormous doses are taken by the athletes often for a long period of time. Moreover, these substances are often used in combination with other licit or illicit drugs and this renders almost unpredictable all the possible adverse effects including cancer. Anyway, athletes should be made aware that long-term treatment with doping agents might increase the risk of developing cancer.