The molecular biology of RU486. Is there a role for antiprogestins in the treatment of breast cancer?

Endocr Rev. 1992 May;13(2):146-63. doi: 10.1210/edrv-13-2-146.


PIP: Considerable animal research and clinical trials demonstrate that progesterone antagonists could treat hormone-dependent breast cancers. Since endogenous progesterone does include mitosis in epithelial cells of the breast, in theory, exogenous progesterone can cause breast cancer. Thus administration of progesterone antagonists could block endogenous progesterone. Yet we do not know the mitosis pattern in breast cancer cells during the menstrual cycle, so research obtaining such data is needed. Ethical problems arise, however, since researchers need multiple breast tumor samples to analyze proliferative activity at various times during the cycle. A possible solution is using an aspirated tumor sample for initial mitotic analysis immediately followed by RU-486 treatment then tumor removal 24 hours later for reanalysis. Ideally well controlled studies using organ-cultured human breast tumors, human breast cancer lines, and human tumors implanted into nude mice are needed to understand the mechanisms of the mitogenic actions of progestins and progestin antagonists. Progestin antagonist may be used to treat locally advanced or metastatic cancers either as an adjuvant endocrine therapy alone or with tamoxifen. An obstacle to longterm use of RU-486 as a treatment for breast cancer is its antiglucocorticoid side effects. But the molecules of newer progesterone antagonists appear to produce maximal antiprogestin activity and minimal antiglucocorticoid activity. In addition, if RU-486 is administered with drugs that prevent adrenal steroidogenesis or peripheral aromatization of adrenal steroids to estrogens, women may take it for longterm treatment. Researchers must have the opportunity to continue basic tumor biological and molecular research to gain an understanding of the exact molecular targets and mechanisms of antagonist action. The current political climate in the US hinders such research, however.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Down-Regulation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mifepristone / pharmacology*
  • Mifepristone / therapeutic use
  • Progesterone / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Progesterone / pharmacology
  • Progesterone / physiology*
  • Receptors, Progesterone / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Receptors, Progesterone
  • Mifepristone
  • Progesterone
  • DNA