Sex hormone levels and risk of breast cancer with estrogen plus progestin

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2013 Oct 2;105(19):1496-503. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djt243. Epub 2013 Sep 16.


Background: Although high endogenous sex hormone levels and estrogen plus progestin (E+P) therapy are associated with increased breast cancer risk, it is unknown whether pretreatment levels of sex hormones modify E+P effect on breast cancer.

Methods: We conducted a nested case-control study within the Women's Health Initiative randomized clinical trial of E+P. The trial enrolled 16608 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 years with intact uterus and no breast cancer history. During a mean of 5.6 years of follow-up, 348 incident breast cancer case subjects were identified and matched with 348 control subjects. Case and control subjects had their sex hormone levels measured at baseline (estrogens, testosterone, progesterone, and sex hormone-binding globulin [SHBG]) and year 1 (estrogens and SHBG) using sensitive assays. All statistical tests were two-sided.

Results: Statistically significant elevations in breast cancer risk were seen with greater pretreatment levels of total estradiol (P trend = .04), bioavailable estradiol (P trend = .03), estrone (P trend = .007), and estrone sulfate (P trend = .007). E+P increased all measured estrogens and SHGB at year 1 (all P < .001). The effect of E+P on breast cancer risk was strongest in women whose pretreatment levels of total estradiol, bioavailable estradiol, and estrone were in the lowest quartiles. For example, the odds ratio for E+P relative to placebo was 2.47 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.28 to 4.79) in the lowest total estradiol quartile, compared with 0.96 (95% CI = 0.44 to 2.09) in the highest total estradiol quartile; P interaction = .04).

Conclusions: Women with lower pr-treatment endogenous estrogen levels were at greater risk of breast cancer during E+P therapy compared with those with higher levels. Further studies are warranted to confirm these findings.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy / methods*
  • Estrogens / administration & dosage*
  • Estrone / analogs & derivatives
  • Estrone / blood
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / blood*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Postmenopause
  • Progesterone / blood
  • Progestins / administration & dosage*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin / metabolism
  • Testosterone / blood
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Women's Health


  • Estrogens
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Progestins
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin
  • Estrone
  • Testosterone
  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol
  • estrone sulfate