This review summarises preclinical and clinical data on effects of endogenous and exogenous estrogens on probability of breast cancer diagnosis, and on the course and efficacy of breast cancer therapies. The data indicate that higher endogenous estrogen exposure (e.g. pregnancy, early menarche and late menopause, estrogen levels in future breast cancer patients, obesity) or exogenous estrogens (oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapies) may be associated with an increased probability of breast cancer diagnosis. However, there is little evidence that estrogens have deleterious effects on the course of breast cancer. Moreover, increased incidence of breast cancer diagnosis after prolonged hormone replacement therapy (HRT) use seems to be associated with clinically less advanced disease. In studies assessing both diagnosis and mortality, HRT is frequently associated with reduced mortality compared to never users. The interaction of progestagens and estrogens on the probability of breast cancer diagnosis is complex and dependent on type of progestagens and regimens employed. Efficacy of current treatment modalities for breast cancer (surgery, irradiation, adjuvant therapy or chemotherapy) is not negatively influenced by estrogens at concentrations considerably higher than those attained with current HRT preparations. Although it cannot be excluded that estrogens increase the probability of breast cancer diagnosis, available data fail to demonstrate that, once breast cancer has been diagnosed, estrogens worsen prognosis, accelerate the course of the disease, reduce survival or interfere with the management of breast cancer. It may therefore be concluded that the prevalent opinion that estrogens and estrogen treatment are deleterious for breast cancer, needs to be revisited. However, results of ongoing prospective, randomised clinical trials with different HRT regimens in healthy women or breast cancer survivors are needed to provide more definite conclusions about risks and benefits of HRT.
2000. Vol. 36, no 1