Lessons to be learned from animal studies on hormones and the breast

Maturitas. 2004 Sep 24;49(1):79-89. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2004.06.012.


The relation of hormone use by postmenopausal women to breast cancer risk has been controversial and unclear. A recent large randomized trial, the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) and a large observational study (Million Women Study) provided somewhat conflicting answers. The WHI found an increased incidence of breast cancer among women given hormone therapy (conjugated equine estrogen plus medroxyprogesterone acetate) but no increase in those given estrogen only therapy (conjugated equine estrogen alone). Whereas, the Million Women Study found an increased breast cancer risk among the estrogen plus progestin and the estrogen only users. This review brings comparative perspective to the issue of the effects of estrogen plus progestin versus estrogen only effects on breast cancer and is focused particularly on nonhuman primates. Although data from rodents is mixed, studies of monkeys suggest that estrogen only treatment has little or no effect on breast cell proliferation, and by inference, on breast cancer risk. On the other hand, data from both mouse and monkey studies strongly support the conclusion that the co-administration of a progestogen with an estrogen markedly increases breast cell proliferation and the potential for breast cancer promotion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast / drug effects*
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy*
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / pharmacology*
  • Haplorhini
  • Menopause*
  • Models, Animal*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Rats


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones