Estrogens, progestogens, normal breast cell proliferation, and breast cancer risk

Epidemiol Rev. 1993;15(1):17-35. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.epirev.a036102.


PIP: Epidemiologic studies suggest that ovarian hormones contribute to the development of breast cancer at all stages. Early menopause and premenopausal obesity reduces the risk while postmenopausal obesity and menopausal estrogen replacement therapy increases the risk. Combined oral contraceptives and Depo-Provera do not reduce the risk. It appears that estrogens and progestogens act through and with proto-oncogenes and growth factors to affect breast cell proliferation and breast cancer etiology. Animal studies suggest that estrogen causes interlobular ductal cell division and progesterone causes increased terminal duct lobular unit cell division in the luteal phase. Most breast carcinomas originate from terminal duct lobular unit cells. During pregnancy, these cells fully multiply. Their reproduction is also increased during the luteal phase. Yet, there is considerable interpersonal variation. No studies examining breast cell division have compared cell division rates with serum hormone concentrations, however. The peak of mitosis occurs about 3 days before breast cell death in the late luteal and very early follicular phases. Other research suggests that breast stem cell proliferation is linked to breast cancer development. Endocrine therapy reduces mitotic activity, indicating the estrogen and progesterone receptor content of breast cancers. Hormone-dependent breast cancer cell lines are all estrogen-dependent. Progesterone can block the estrogen-dependent cell lines which act like endometrial cells. The results of the various breast cell proliferation studies in relation to breast cancer are unclear and research identifying a molecular explanation would help in understanding the different findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Cell Division
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Menopause / physiology
  • Pregnancy / physiology
  • Progestins / physiology*
  • Risk Factors


  • Estrogens
  • Progestins