Molecular epidemiology of breast cancer: genetic variation in steroid hormone metabolism

Mutat Res. 2000 Apr;462(2-3):323-33. doi: 10.1016/s1383-5742(00)00018-1.


The age-specific incidence rate of breast cancer in women rises until menopause, levels off and then rises again at a much lower rate indicating a possible hormonal influence on the disease risk. A large amount of evidence has implicated hormones and other compounds with oestrogen activity in the pathogenesis of certain endocrine cancers, particularly breast cancer. Widely dispersed hormone-like chemicals, capable of disrupting the endocrine system and interfering with proliferation, have been described. Compounds such as dioxins, some polychlorinated biphenyls and the plastic ingredient bisphenol-A have been shown to interfere with human reproduction and hormonal regulation. The levels of these foreign compounds as well as the levels of endogenous oestradiol may influence the risk of breast cancer. Endogenous oestradiol is synthesised in the ovarian theca cells of premenopausal women or in the stromal adipose cells of the breast of postmenopausal women and minor quantities in peripheral tissue. These cells, as well as breast cancer tissue, express all the necessary enzymes for this synthesis: CYP17, CYP11a, CYP19, hydroxysteroid hydrogenase, steroid sulphatase as well as enzymes further hydroxylating oestradiol such as CYP1A1, CYP3A4, CYP1B1. Polymorphisms in these enzymes may have a possible role in the link between environmental estrogens and hormone-like substances and the interindividual risk of breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 17-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases / genetics
  • Arylsulfatases / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Molecular Epidemiology
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Steryl-Sulfatase


  • Estrogens
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • 17-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases
  • Arylsulfatases
  • Steryl-Sulfatase