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Free access

R E Smith and B C Good

The idea of breast cancer prevention by hormonal means stemmed from the results of treatment trials, many of them carried out by the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP). Over the years, a number of NSABP treatment studies demonstrated that breast cancer recurrence was reduced in women with the disease who were given tamoxifen, a selective estrogen receptor (ER) modulator (SERM). Five subsequent tamoxifen prevention trials with this agent have shown a 48% reduction in ER-positive cancers, but no effect for ER-negative cancers, and an increase in endometrial cancer and thromboembolic events. The drug raloxifene, another SERM, originally examined as an osteoporosis agent, has also shown promise for the prevention of breast cancer, although, as with tamoxifen, the drug carries a risk for thromboembolic events. There is recent evidence in a large treatment trial that the aromastase inhibitor anastrazole, a 'pure anti-estrogen', holds promise as a breast cancer preventive agent. Longer follow-up and the testing of additional agents is required before these drugs can be used widely for prevention. In addition, future research should focus on the identification of at-risk women who can perhaps be targeted for specific prevention agents.

Free access

Stephen Hiscox, Nicola J Jordan, Wen Jiang, Maureen Harper, Richard McClelland, Chris Smith, and Robert I Nicholson

Our previous investigations using cell models of tamoxifen resistance have shown that the acquisition of an endocrine-insensitive state is accompanied by an invasive in vitro phenotype. In this study, we wished to determine whether this was specifically related to partial oestrogen receptor agonists or whether similar phenomena arise with the newer ‘pure’ anti-oestrogens, exemplified by fulvestrant. Our data demonstrate that the development of fulvestrant resistance in two breast cancer cell lines, MCF7 and T47D, is accompanied by an augmented migratory and invasive phenotype in vitro and overexpression of the HGF/SF receptor, c-Met. Importantly, upregulated c-Met expression in these cells facilitates their stimulation by HGF/SF-secreting stromal fibroblasts, leading to the activation of Src, Akt and ERK1/2 and a profound enhancement of their aggressive phenotype in vitro. These effects could be specifically attributable to activation of the c-Met receptor since the inclusion of neutralising antibodies to c-Met, or siRNA-mediated knockdown of c-Met expression, suppressed both invasion and migration stimulated by either exogenous HGF/SF, fibroblast-conditioned medium or following co-culture with fibroblast cells. Together, these in vitro data suggest that the development of fulvestrant resistance in vivo may confer a metastatic advantage to the cells by allowing their migratory and invasive behaviour to be augmented by surrounding stromal cells.

Free access

R I Nicholson, I R Hutcheson, S E Hiscox, J M Knowlden, M Giles, D Barrow, and J M W Gee

De novo insensitivity and acquired resistance to the selective oestrogen receptor modulator tamoxifen and the pure anti-oestrogen fulvestrant (faslodex) severely limit their effectiveness in breast cancer patients. This is a major clinical problem, since each year upward of 1 million women are dispensed anti-oestrogenic drugs. In order to investigate the phenomenon of anti-oestrogen resistance and to rapidly screen drugs that target the resistance mechanism(s), we have previously established several in vitro breast cancer models that have acquired resistance to anti-hormones. Such cells commonly develop an ability to proliferate after approximately 3 months of exposure to 4-hydroxytamoxifen or fulvestrant, despite an initial endocrine-responsive (i.e. growth-suppressive) phase. The current paper explores the role that growth factor signalling plays in the transition of oestrogen receptor-positive endocrine-responsive breast cancer cells to anti-oestrogen resistance or insensitivity and how we might, in the future, most effectively use anti-growth factor therapies to treat or delay endocrine-resistant states.

Open access

Felicity E B May and Bruce R Westley

The stratification of breast cancer patients for endocrine therapies by oestrogen or progesterone receptor expression is effective but imperfect. The present study aims were to validate microarray studies that demonstrate TFF3 regulation by oestrogen and its association with oestrogen receptors in breast cancer, to evaluate TFF3 as a biomarker of endocrine response, and to investigate TFF3 function. Microarray data were validated by quantitative RT-PCR and northern and western transfer analyses. TFF3 was induced by oestrogen, and its induction was inhibited by antioestrogens, tamoxifen, 4-hydroxytamoxifen and fulvestrant in oestrogen-responsive breast cancer cells. The expression of TFF3 mRNA was associated with oestrogen receptor mRNA in breast tumours (Pearson's coefficient=0.762, P=0.000). Monoclonal antibodies raised against the TFF3 protein detected TFF3 by immunohistochemistry in oesophageal submucosal glands, intestinal goblet and neuroendocrine cells, Barrett's metaplasia and intestinal metaplasia. TFF3 protein expression was associated with oestrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and TFF1 expression in malignant breast cells. TFF3 is a specific and sensitive predictive biomarker of response to endocrine therapy, degree of response and duration of response in unstratified metastatic breast cancer patients (P=0.000, P=0.002 and P=0.002 respectively). Multivariate binary logistic regression analysis demonstrated that TFF3 is an independent biomarker of endocrine response and degree of response, and this was confirmed in a validation cohort. TFF3 stimulated migration and invasion of breast cancer cells. In conclusion, TFF3 expression is associated with response to endocrine therapy, and outperforms oestrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and TFF1 as an independent biomarker, possibly because it mediates the malign effects of oestrogen on invasion and metastasis.

Free access

F Labrie

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed and the second cause of cancer death in women, thus making breast cancer a most feared disease. Since breast cancer metastasizes early and it is unlikely that improvements in the treatment of metastatic disease could permit a cure in most cases in the foreseeable future, it is clear that prevention is essential in order practically to eliminate deaths from breast cancer. Tamoxifen is the only selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) currently registered for use in breast cancer prevention; the tamoxifen versus raloxifene study should indicate the efficacy of this compound compared with raloxifene. The recent benefits of aromatase inhibitors over tamoxifen indicate the advantages of a blockade of estrogens more complete than the one achieved with tamoxifen, a SERM having some estrogenic activity in the mammary gland and an even higher estrogenic action in the uterus. However, it is unlikely that the general estrogen ablation achieved with aromatase inhibitors will be acceptable for the long-term use required for prevention. It is thus important to develop SERMs with highly potent and pure antagonistic activity in the mammary gland and uterus while possessing estrogen-like activity in tissues of particular importance for women’s health, namely the bones and the cardiovascular system. However, it is expected that a SERM alone will not meet all the requirements of women’s health at the postmenopause when ovarian estrogen secretion has ceased and peripheral formation of androgens and estrogens from DHEA by intracrine mechanisms is decreased by 60% or more. One possibility is to combine a SERM with DHEA, a precursor of sex steroids that permits, somewhat like SERMs, tissue-specific formation of androgens and/or estrogens according to the level of expression of the steroidogenic and steroid-inactivating enzymes. DHEA could thus compensate for the important loss of androgens that accompanies aging and could also permit sex steroid formation and action in the brain while breast cancer prevention would be achieved by the SERM.

Free access

Giorgio Secreto, Alessandro Girombelli, and Vittorio Krogh

The aim of this review is to highlight the pivotal role of androgen excess in the development of breast cancer. Available evidence suggests that testosterone controls breast epithelial growth through a balanced interaction between its two active metabolites: cell proliferation is promoted by estradiol while it is inhibited by dihydrotestosterone. A chronic overproduction of testosterone (e.g. ovarian stromal hyperplasia) results in an increased estrogen production and cell proliferation that are no longer counterbalanced by dihydrotestosterone. This shift in the androgen/estrogen balance partakes in the genesis of ER-positive tumors. The mammary gland is a modified apocrine gland, a fact rarely considered in breast carcinogenesis. When stimulated by androgens, apocrine cells synthesize epidermal growth factor (EGF) that triggers the ErbB family receptors. These include the EGF receptor and the human epithelial growth factor 2, both well known for stimulating cellular proliferation. As a result, an excessive production of androgens is capable of directly stimulating growth in apocrine and apocrine-like tumors, a subset of ER-negative/AR-positive tumors. The key role of androgen excess in the genesis of different subtypes of breast cancer has significant clinical implications for both treatment and prevention. Our belief stems from a thorough analysis of the literature, where an abundance of evidence is present to justify a clinical trial that would investigate the effectiveness of treating the underlying excessive androgen production.

Free access

R R Tekmal, N Kirma, K Gill, and K Fowler

To test directly the role of breast-tissue estrogen in initiation of breast cancer, we have developed the aromatase-transgenic mouse model and demonstrated for the first time that increased mammary estrogens resulting from the overexpression of aromatase in mammary glands lead to the induction of various preneoplastic and neoplastic changes that are similar to early breast cancer. Continued overexpression of aromatase that leads to increased breast-tissue estrogen contributes to a number of epigenetic changes in mammary tissue such as alteration in the regulation of genes involved in apoptosis, activation of genes involved in cell cycle and cell proliferation, and activation of a number of growth factors. Our current studies show aromatase overexpression is sufficient to induce and maintain early preneoplastic and neoplastic changes in female mice without circulating ovarian estrogen. Preneoplastic and neoplastic changes induced in mammary glands as a result of aromatase overexpression can be completely abrogated with the administration of the aromatase inhibitor, letrozole. Consistent with complete reduction in hyperplasia, we have also seen downregulation of estrogen receptor and a decrease in cell proliferation markers, suggesting aromatase-induced hyperplasia can be treated with aromatase inhibitors. Our studies demonstrate that aromatase overexpression alone, without circulating estrogen, is responsible for the induction of breast hyperplasia and these changes can be abrogated using aromatase inhibitors.

Open access

Petteri Ahtiainen, Victoria Sharp, Susana B Rulli, Adolfo Rivero-Müller, Veronika Mamaeva, Matias Röyttä, and Ilpo Huhtaniemi

The etiology of pituitary adenomas remains largely unknown, with the exception of involvement of estrogens in the formation of prolactinomas. We have examined the molecular pathogenesis of prolactin-producing pituitary adenomas in transgenic female mice expressing the human choriongonadotropin (hCG) β-subunit. The LH/CG bioactivity is elevated in the mice, with consequent highly stimulated ovarian progesterone (P4) production, in the face of normal estrogen secretion. Curiously, despite normal estrogen levels, large prolactinomas developed in these mice, and we provide here several lines of evidence that the elevated P4 levels are involved in the growth of these estrogen-dependent tumors. The antiprogestin mifepristone inhibited tumor growth, and combined postgonadectomy estradiol/P4 treatment was more effective than estrogen alone in inducing tumor growth. Evidence for direct growth-promoting effect of P4 was obtained from cultures of primary mouse pituitary cells and rat somatomammotroph GH3 cells. The mouse tumors and cultured cells revealed stimulation of the cyclin D1/cyclin-dependent kinase 4/retinoblastoma protein/transcription factor E2F1 pathway in the growth response to P4. If extrapolated to humans, and given the importance of endogenous P4 and synthetic progestins in female reproductive functions and their pharmacotherapy, it is relevant to revisit the potential role of these hormones in the origin and growth of prolactinomas.

Free access

Helena Schock, Heljä-Marja Surcel, Anne Zeleniuch-Jacquotte, Kjell Grankvist, Hans-Åke Lakso, Renée Turzanski Fortner, Rudolf Kaaks, Eero Pukkala, Matti Lehtinen, Paolo Toniolo, and Eva Lundin

Well-established associations between reproductive characteristics and epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) support an involvement of sex steroid hormones in the etiology of EOC. Limited previous studies have evaluated circulating androgens and the risk of EOC, and estrogens and progesterone have been investigated in only one of the previous studies. Furthermore, there is little data on potential heterogeneity in the association between circulating hormones and EOC by histological subgroup. Therefore, we conducted a nested case–control study within the Finnish Maternity Cohort and the Northern Sweden Maternity Cohort to investigate the associations between circulating pre-diagnostic sex steroid concentrations and the histological subtypes of EOC. We identified 1052 EOC cases among cohort members diagnosed after recruitment (1975–2008) and before March 2011. Up to three controls were individually matched to each case (n=2694). Testosterone, androstenedione, 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17-OHP), progesterone, estradiol (E2), and sex hormone-binding globulin levels were measured in serum samples collected during the last pregnancy before EOC diagnosis. We used conditional logistic regression to estimate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% CIs. Associations between hormones and EOC differed with respect to tumor histology and invasiveness. Sex steroid concentrations were not associated with invasive serous tumors; however, doubling of testosterone and 17-OHP concentration was associated with approximately 40% increased risk of borderline serous tumors. A doubling of androgen concentrations was associated with a 50% increased risk of mucinous tumors. The risk of endometrioid tumors increased with higher E2 concentrations (OR: 1.89 (1.20–2.98)). This large prospective study in pregnant women supports a role of sex steroid hormones in the etiology of EOC arising in the ovaries.

Free access

S A Khan, D Bhandare, and R T Chatterton Jr

Recent developments in breast epithelial sampling techniques (nipple fluid aspiration, ductal lavage, and random fine needle aspiration) provide new opportunities for the acquisition of hormonal and cellular biomarker data in asymptomatic women, and thereby the possibility of developing a unified vision of how the hormonal environment of the breast may interact with the cellular expression of proteins, and with other evolving candidate markers of breast cancer risk. The purpose of this review is to integrate available information regarding cellular and breast fluid biomarkers of hormone action on the breast, to identify candidate biomarkers for studies of breast cancer risk and prevention. These include the estrogen receptors α andβ, markers of proliferative and apoptotic response, and protein markers of estrogen action in breast cells and nipple fluid. Studies of breast hormone levels in nipple aspiration fluid (NAF) show that estrone sulphate is present in large quantities in the normal breast, while the differences in serum ovarian steroids that are seen in pre- and postmenopausal women are blunted in NAF. The variability of several estradiol precursors in NAF over time is relatively small, a useful attribute of potential biomarkers of breast cancer risk, particularly if they are reversible with intervention in Phase 2 prevention trials. These studies are already providing new insights into the hormonal etiology of breast cancer, and should lead to the identification of robust, reversible biomarkers for use in breast cancer prevention studies.