Importance of estrogen sulfates in breast cancer

J Steroid Biochem. 1989;34(1-6):155-63. doi: 10.1016/0022-4731(89)90077-0.


Estrogen sulfates are quantitatively the most important form of circulating estrogens during the menstrual cycle and in the post-menopausal period. Huge quantities of estrone sulfate and estradiol sulfate are found in the breast tissues of patients with mammary carcinoma. It has been demonstrated that different estrogen-3-sulfates (estrone-3-sulfate, estradiol-3-sulfate, estriol-3-sulfate) can provoke important biological responses in different mammary cancer cell lines: there is a significant increase in progesterone receptor. On the other hand, no significant effect was observed with estrogen-17-sulfates. The reason for the biological response of estrogen-3-sulfates is that these sulfates are hydrolyzed, and no sulfatase activity for C17-sulfates is present in these cell lines. [3H]Estrone sulfate is converted in a very high percentage to estradiol (E2) in different hormone-dependent mammary cancer cell lines (MCF-7, R-27, T-47D), but very little or no conversion was found in the hormone-independent mammary cancer cell lines (MDA-MB-231, MDA-MB-436). Different anti-estrogens (tamoxifen and derivatives) and another potent anti-estrogen: ICI 164,384, decrease the concentration of estradiol very significantly after incubation of estrone sulfate with the different hormone-dependent mammary cancer cell lines. No significant effect was observed for the uptake and conversion of estrone sulfate in the hormone-independent mammary cancer cell lines. Progesterone provokes an important decrease in the uptake and in estradiol levels after incubation of [3H]estrone sulfate with the MCF-7 cells. It is concluded that in breast cancer: (1) Estrogen sulfates can play an important role in the biological response of estrogens; (2) Anti-estrogens and progesterone significantly decrease the uptake and estradiol levels in hormone-dependent mammary cancer cell lines; (3) The control of the sulfatase and 17 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activities, which are key steps in the formation of estradiol in the breast, can open new possibilities in the treatment of hormone-dependent mammary cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Cell Line
  • Estrogen Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Estrogens, Conjugated (USP)*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Menstrual Cycle
  • Sulfates*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / metabolism


  • Estrogen Antagonists
  • Estrogens
  • Estrogens, Conjugated (USP)
  • Sulfates