High-dose synthetic estrogens were the first successful chemical therapy used in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and this approach became the standard of care in postmenopausal women with metastatic breast cancer between the 1950s and the end of the 1970s. The most recent analysis of the Women's Health Initiative estrogen-alone trial in hysterectomized women revealed a persistently significant decrease in the incidence of breast cancer and breast cancer mortality. Although estrogens are known to induce the proliferation of breast cancer cells, we have shown that physiologic concentrations induce apoptosis in breast cancer cells with long-term estrogen deprivation. We have developed laboratory models that illustrate the new biology of estrogen-induced apoptosis or growth to explain the effects of estrogen therapy. The key to the success of estrogen therapy lies in a sufficient period of withdrawal of physiologic estrogens (5-10 y) and the subsequent regrowth of nascent breast tumor cells that survive under estrogen-deprived conditions. These nascent tumors are now vulnerable to estrogen-induced apoptosis.