Estrogens regulate the growth and differentiation of mammary cells and play an important role in the development of breast cancer. High circulating levels of estrogens are associated with increased risk of breast cancer in Caucasian women. Because Asian women have low estrogens in the circulation compared with their Caucasian counterparts, the effect of estrogens on breast cancer risk in populations with low circulating estrogens remains to be elucidated. We conducted a population-based case-control study in China to evaluate the association of sex steroid hormones with breast cancer risk in Chinese women. Our study included 300 incident cases with primary breast cancer and 300 age- and menopausal status-matched healthy controls randomly selected from the general population in Shanghai. Fasting blood samples were collected from cases prior to any treatment and from their matched controls. Commercial immunoassays were used to measure plasma concentrations of estradiol, estrone, estrone sulfate, testosterone, progesterone, dehydroepiandrosteindian sulfate (DHEA-S) and steroid hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). Conditional logistic regression analysis was performed to examine the association between steroid hormones and breast cancer risk. The results showed that breast cancer risk was elevated with increasing levels of estrone and testosterone (p for trend < 0.05) but not with DHEA-S, estradiol, estrone sulfate, progesterone or SHBG. The estimated relative risks between upper and lower tertiles were 2.07 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.97-4.41) for estrone in postmenopausal women, 2.01 (95% CI 0.96-4.21) for testosterone in premenopausal women, and 2.40 (95% CI 1.11-5.21) for testosterone in postmenopausal women, after adjusting for age at first live birth, waist-to-hip ratio, total calorie intake, a history of fibroadenoma, a family history of breast cancer and SHBG. These results, in general, are consistent with the findings in Caucasian women and indicate that high sex steroid hormones in the circulation, both androgen and estrogen, are associated with increased risk of breast cancer even in populations with relatively low sex hormones.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.