Background: Testosterone therapy is being increasingly used in the management of postmenopausal women. However, as clinical trials have demonstrated a significantly increased risk of breast cancer with oral combined estrogen-progestin therapy, there is a need to ascertain the risk of including testosterone in such regimens.
Objective: Evaluation of experimental and epidemiological studies pertaining to the role of testosterone in breast cancer.
Design: Literature review.
Setting: The Jean Hailes Foundation, Research Unit.
Main outcome measures: Mammary epithelial proliferation, apoptosis and breast cancer.
Results: In experimental studies, testosterone action is anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic, and mediated via the AR, despite the potential for testosterone to be aromatized to estrogen. Animal studies suggest that testosterone may serve as a natural, endogenous protector of the breast and limit mitogenic and cancer promoting effects of estrogen on mammary epithelium. In premenopausal women, elevated testosterone is not associated with greater breast cancer risk. The risk of breast cancer is also not increased in women with polycystic ovary syndrome who have chronic estrogen exposure and androgen excess. However, in postmenopausal women, who are oestrogen deplete and have increased adipose aromatase activity, higher testosterone has been associated with greater breast cancer risk.
Conclusion: Available data indicate the inclusion of testosterone in estrogen-progestin regimens has the potential to ameliorate the stimulating effects of hormones on the breast. However, testosterone therapy alone cannot be recommended for estrogen deplete women because of the potential risk of enhanced aromatisation to estrogen in this setting.