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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Breast cancer and post-menopausal hormone therapy.

From the introduction of post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) there has been great concern that HRT could possibly increase the risk of breast cancer. Prolonged exposure to endogenous oestrogens undeniably increases the risk of breast cancer. Questions that are important and until now only partly answered, are the following. Are oestrogens tumour promoters, as they induce mitosis, lead to proliferation and, therefore, accelerated growth of clinically occult pre-existing tumours? In addition to this, are they genotoxic mutagenic carcinogens, or could they initiate tumours by way of accumulation of incessant DNA-replication damage mechanism? Opinions vary as to the effect of the addition of a progestogen. There is a multitude of different progestogens which could bind with differing affinity to progesterone receptor PR-A or PR-B, and which have different physiological functions via differential gene regulation. The action of a progestogen on the oestrogen-induced cellular mitotic activity could be synergistic or antagonistic (by different pathways: oestrogen receptor downregulation, activating of metabolic pathways within the breast or stimulation of apoptosis)? Over 60 observational studies and two randomized trials provide evidence that the small but significant increase in risk appears with long-term current post-menopausal hormone use. The addition of a progestogen does not decrease the risk as seen with oestrogens alone and might increase the risk further. It is not clear whether there is a difference in risk with sequentially combined versus continuously combined HRT. Many questions nevertheless still remain. Is the risk increase limited to lean women only? What about risk-modifying factors such as alcohol use and a positive family history for breast cancer? Are tumours detected under HRT less aggressive, is there a better prognosis and is the mortality not increased while morbidity is? And is HRT contraindicated for women with a positive family history for breast cancer or in those women who have been treated for breast cancer? And finally, are there alternative options for these women?[1]


  1. Breast cancer and post-menopausal hormone therapy. Kenemans, P., Bosman, A. Best practice & research. Clinical endocrinology & metabolism. (2003) [Pubmed]
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