Serum estradiol level and risk of breast cancer during treatment with raloxifene

JAMA. 2002 Jan 9;287(2):216-20. doi: 10.1001/jama.287.2.216.


Context: As endogenous estradiol increases, risk of breast cancer increases. Raloxifene competes with endogenous estrogen for binding to estrogen receptors in breast tissue. A woman's estradiol level may alter the effects of raloxifene on breast cancer and other outcomes.

Objective: To test the hypothesis that raloxifene reduces breast cancer risk more in women with relatively high estradiol levels than in women with very low estradiol levels.

Design: Analysis of the Multiple Outcomes of Raloxifene Evaluation, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted from 1994 to 1999.

Setting: One hundred eighty community settings and medical practices in 25 countries including the United States.

Participants: A total of 7290 postmenopausal women aged 80 years or younger with osteoporosis who had baseline serum estradiol concentrations measured by a central laboratory using a sensitive assay. Women with a history of breast cancer or estrogen use were excluded.

Intervention: Participants were randomly assigned to receive 60 mg/d or 120 mg/d of raloxifene (n = 4843) or matching placebo (n = 2447) for 4 years.

Main outcome measure: New cases of histopathologically confirmed breast cancer in the treatment and placebo groups, stratified by estradiol levels.

Results: In the placebo group, women with estradiol levels greater than 10 pmol/L (2.7 pg/mL) had a 6.8-fold higher rate of breast cancer (3.0% per 4 years; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.8%-4.1%) than that of women with undetectable estradiol levels (0.6% per 4 years; 95% CI, 0%-1.1%; P =.005 for trend). Women with estradiol levels greater than 10 pmol/L in the raloxifene group had a rate of breast cancer that was 76% (95% CI, 53%-88%) lower than that of women with estradiol levels greater than 10 pmol/L in the placebo group (absolute rate reduction, 2.2% [95% CI, 1.0%-3.5%; number needed to treat = 45]). In contrast, women with undetectable estradiol levels had similar breast cancer risk whether or not they were treated with raloxifene (risk difference, -0.1%; 95% CI, -0.8% to 0.6%; P =.02 for the interaction). In this cohort, treating women with estradiol levels greater than 10 pmol/L with raloxifene for 4 years would have avoided 47% of breast cancer cases.

Conclusions: Measurement of estradiol level by sensitive assay in postmenopausal women identifies those at high risk of breast cancer who may benefit most from raloxifene. If confirmed, this suggests that measuring estradiol and treating women with high estradiol levels could substantially reduce the rate of breast cancer among postmenopausal women.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Estradiol / blood*
  • Female
  • Hot Flashes / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / blood
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / drug therapy
  • Postmenopause / blood
  • Raloxifene Hydrochloride / therapeutic use*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators / therapeutic use*
  • Spinal Fractures / epidemiology
  • Venous Thrombosis / epidemiology


  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators
  • Raloxifene Hydrochloride
  • Estradiol