Minireview: Inflammation: an instigator of more aggressive estrogen receptor (ER) positive breast cancers

Mol Endocrinol. 2012 Mar;26(3):360-71. doi: 10.1210/me.2011-1302. Epub 2012 Feb 2.


Approximately 75% of breast tumors express the estrogen receptor (ER), and women with these tumors will receive endocrine therapy. Unfortunately, up to 50% of these patients will fail ER-targeted therapies due to either de novo or acquired resistance. ER-positive tumors can be classified based on gene expression profiles into Luminal A- and Luminal B-intrinsic subtypes, with distinctly different responses to endocrine therapy and overall patient outcome. However, the underlying biology causing this tumor heterogeneity has yet to become clear. This review will explore the role of inflammation as a risk factor in breast cancer as well as a player in the development of more aggressive, therapy-resistant ER-positive breast cancers. First, breast cancer risk factors, such as obesity and mammary gland involution after pregnancy, which can foster an inflammatory microenvironment within the breast, will be described. Second, inflammatory components of the tumor microenvironment, including tumor-associated macrophages and proinflammatory cytokines, which can act on nearby breast cancer cells and modulate tumor phenotype, will be explored. Finally, activation of the nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) pathway and its cross talk with ER in the regulation of key genes in the promotion of more aggressive breast cancers will be reviewed. From these multiple lines of evidence, we propose that inflammation may promote more aggressive ER-positive tumors and that combination therapy targeting both inflammation and estrogen production or actions could benefit a significant portion of women whose ER-positive breast tumors fail to respond to endocrine therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Receptor Cross-Talk
  • Receptors, Estrogen / genetics
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism*
  • Risk Factors


  • Cytokines
  • Receptors, Estrogen