Resistance to endocrine therapy in breast cancer: exploiting estrogen receptor/growth factor signaling crosstalk

Endocr Relat Cancer. 2006 Dec;13 Suppl 1:S15-24. doi: 10.1677/erc.1.01273.


Targeting the estrogen receptor (ER) is the oldest form of molecular targeted therapy, and the widespread use of the selective estrogen receptor modulator tamoxifen in breast cancer is responsible for major improvements in cure rates, quality of life, and disease prevention in the last 25 years. Newer forms of endocrine therapy now available for the management of endocrine responsive breast cancer include a new generation of aromatase inhibitors, which lower the estrogen ligand for ER, and pure ER antagonists which destroy the receptor. Despite these recent clinical advances, intrinsic and acquired resistance to these endocrine therapies is still a common feature that limits the success of this therapeutic strategy. Recent research into the molecular biology of ER signaling has revealed a remarkably complex interactive signaling with other growth factor signaling pathways in breast cancer cells, potentially explaining some of the reasons behind endocrine therapy action as well as resistance. This view of a more complex ER signaling system has uncovered new molecular targets which, if present in a cancer cell, might be additionally targeted using various signal transduction inhibitors to overcome or prevent resistance to endocrine therapy. In addition, the dynamic inverse relationship between the expression of ER and growth factor receptors brings more excitement to the potential of restoring ER expression in apparently ER-negative cells by inhibition of growth factor signaling. Ongoing clinical trials of endocrine therapy combined with growth factor pathway inhibitors or their downstream signaling elements promise to further improve the present care for breast cancer patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma / drug therapy*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Epidermal Growth Factor / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Receptor Cross-Talk / physiology*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Epidermal Growth Factor