Breast development, hormones and cancer

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2008;630:52-6. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-78818-0_4.


Breast cancer originates in undifferentiated terminal structures of the mammary gland. The terminal ducts of the Lob 1 of the human female breast, which are the sites of origin of ductal carcinomas, are at their peak of cell replication during early adulthood, a period during which the breast is more susceptible to carcinogenesis. The susceptibility of Lob 1 to undergo neoplastic transformation has been confirmed by in vitro studies, which have shown that this structure has the highest proliferative activity, estrogen receptor content and rate of carcinogen binding to the DNA. The higher incidence of breast cancer observed in nulliparous women supports this concept, whereas the protection afforded by early full-term pregnancy in women could be explained by the higher degree of differentiation of the mammary gland at the time in which an etiologic agent or agents act.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / etiology*
  • Female
  • Hormones / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mammary Glands, Human / cytology
  • Mammary Glands, Human / growth & development*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / physiology


  • Hormones