NEW YORK -- Abuse of muscle-building anabolic steroids killed six athletes last year and may be responsible for liver cancer in many who do not even know they are ill, a leading sports doctor says.
Steroid abuse has gained national attention from recent drug scandals at two universities and the athlete deaths, but Dr. Bob Goldman said the general public is not getting the message about the dangers of the drug.
Anabolic steroids, which can be taken orally or by injection, are used by athletes to build up their muscles.
'It's a serious problem to the extent that many athletes in this country -- and throughout the world for that matter -- are so intent on training and so dedicated to success that quite often they will take virtually anything if they think it will help their performance,' said Jack Kelly, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee. 'We have to almost protect them against themselves.'
Goldman, director of sports medicine research for the Chicago Osteopathic Medical Center and a leading crusader against steroid use, told United Press International Wednesday his records show six athletes died in 1984 from misusing the drug.
The deaths include two athletes in New York who died from heart and immune system failure, three in Pennsylvania of heart disease and another of liver cancer.
Among his other findings related to steroid abuse over the past year:
-Two heart attack deaths in California among athletes with no prior history of heart trouble and a strong history of steroid use.
-A 23-year-old athlete who suffered a stroke.
-A 30-year-old athlete who needed triple bypass surgery with no history of heart disease.
-A 29-year-old world class weight lifter from Michigan who suffered a stroke.
-AIDS transmitted to a body builder by a shared steroid injecting needle.
These cases, Goldman said, are 'just the tip of the iceberg.'
Goldman, whose report on a liver cancer case is documented in the February issue of the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, said there are 35 cases in medical literature in which anabolic steroid therapy has been linked to liver cancer in patients with no history of liver disease.
Moreover, he says, scores of athletes may unknowingly have liver cancer. For many of them, it may already be too late.
'If a tumor is suspected and the anabolic androgenic steroids are discontinued, there is a tumor regression in some cases, but liver enzyme evaluation may not be present at pathologic levels until death is imminent and unpreventable,' Goldman wrote in his report.
Kelly said the Olympic Committee is trying to eradicate steroid use by perfecting detection procedures, researching the effects of the drugs and getting the message out to athletes.
'Basically, it's just like saying, 'Don't smoke,' and explaining the horrible consequences, but a lot of people don't seem to care what happens to their bodies,' Kelly said.