The consequences of exhaustive antiestrogen therapy in breast cancer: estrogen-induced tumor cell death

Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2004 Sep;229(8):722-31. doi: 10.1177/153537020422900804.


Forty years ago, the endocrine treatment for breast cancer was a last resort at palliation before the disease overwhelmed the patient (1). Ovarian ablation was the treatment of choice for the premenopausal patient, whereas either adrenalectomy or, paradoxically, high-dose synthetic estrogen therapy were used for treatment in postmenopausal patients. A reduction or an excess of estrogen provoked objective responses in one out of three women. Unfortunately, there was no way of predicting who would respond to endocrine ablation, and because so few patients responded there was no enthusiasm for developing new endocrine agents. All hopes for a cure for breast cancer turned to appropriate combinations of cytotoxic chemotherapy. Today tamoxifen, a nonsteroidal antiestrogen (2), has proven to be effective in all stages of premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer, and several new endocrine strategies, including aromatase inhibitors, luteinizing-hormone releasing hormone (LHRH) superagonists, and a pure antiestrogen (fulvestrant), are now available for breast cancer treatment. Additionally, tamoxifen and raloxifene, a related compound, are used to reduce the risk of breast cancer and osteoporosis, respectively, in high-risk groups (3). Hormonal modulation and strategies to prevent the actions of estrogen in the breast are ubiquitous. However, with successful changes in treatment strategies comes the consequence of change. This minireview will describe the current strategies for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer and present emerging new concepts about the consequences of exhaustive antiestrogen treatment on therapeutic resistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Drug Resistance
  • Estrogen Receptor Modulators / therapeutic use*
  • Estrogens / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators / therapeutic use


  • Estrogen Receptor Modulators
  • Estrogens
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators