Progestins and breast cancer

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2003 May;188(5):1123-31. doi: 10.1067/mob.2003.201.


The relationship between the use of menopausal hormone therapy (ERT, unopposed estrogen therapy; HRT, combined estrogen and progestin therapy) and the development of breast cancer remains controversial. Mechanistic studies examining progestins in human breast cancer cell lines have demonstrated a biphasic cellular response to progesterone; initial exposure to hormone results in a proliferative burst with sustained exposure resulting in growth inhibition. To date, there is no definitive evidence that progestins act in the pathogenesis of breast cancer. Epidemiologic studies have produced inconsistent results, and data from randomized, placebo-controlled trials are limited. Although recent results from the continuous combined therapy arm of the Women's Health Initiative trial showed a small increase in the risk of invasive breast cancer in women on therapy for 5 years or more, a clear consensus regarding the relationship between HRT and breast cancer risk cannot yet be drawn from existing data. Studies have consistently documented that HRT use is associated with improved mortality and survival rates for women with breast cancer. Large-scale, randomized studies on different progestin regimens are needed to critically assess the effect of progestin on breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast / growth & development
  • Breast / physiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy / adverse effects
  • Estrogens / biosynthesis
  • Female
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Progesterone / physiology
  • Progestins / adverse effects*
  • Progestins / physiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Survival Analysis


  • Estrogens
  • Progestins
  • Progesterone