Endogenous estrogens and the risk of breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers

Steroids. 2015 Jul;99(Pt A):8-10. doi: 10.1016/j.steroids.2014.12.013. Epub 2014 Dec 30.


Data from laboratory and epidemiologic studies support a relationship between endogenous hormones and the increased risk of several female cancers. In epidemiologic studies, consistent associations have been observed between risk of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers and reproductive and hormonal risk factors such as high postmenopausal body mass index (BMI) and postmenopausal hormone use, which suggest the importance of endogenous hormones in the etiology of these diseases. The relationship between circulating estrogen levels in postmenopausal women and the risk of breast cancer is well established, with an approximately 2-fold higher risk among women in the top 20-25% (versus bottom 20-25%) of levels. However, data evaluating the relationship between endogenous estrogens and premenopausal breast cancer risk are more limited and less consistent. Two studies to date have evaluated the relationship between circulating estrogens and breast cancer risk by menstrual cycle phase at blood collection and only one study has examined this relationship by menopausal status at diagnosis. Three prospective studies have evaluated circulating estrogen levels and endometrial cancer risk in postmenopausal women, with consistent strong positive associations reported (with relative risks of 2-4 comparing high versus low hormone levels), while this relationship has not been studied in premenopausal women. Compared to breast and endometrial cancers, reproductive and hormonal characteristics such as postmenopausal hormone use are generally weaker and less consistent risk factors for ovarian cancer, and the only small prospective study conducted to date indicated a non-significant positive relationship between circulating estrogen levels and ovarian cancer risk. In this review, we summarize current evidence and identify key areas to be addressed in future epidemiologic studies of endogenous estrogens and the risk of breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Endogenous hormones; Endometrial cancer; Estrogens; Ovarian cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Endometrial Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Estradiol / metabolism
  • Estrogens / blood
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Postmenopause
  • Risk Factors


  • Estrogens
  • Estradiol