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C K Osborne

Most endocrine therapies for breast cancer inhibit tumor growth by depriving the cell of estrogen or by blocking its receptor. However, some drugs, such as tamoxifen, can bind to the estrogen receptor (ER) and have both estrogenic and antiestrogenic effects, depending on the tissue, cell, or promoter context. These mixed properties may be explained by new information on ER function at the molecular level. Whether a synthetic drug acts as an estrogen or antiestrogen on a specific gene may be dictated by the particular ensemble of ER subtype, receptor interacting proteins, other transcription factors, or specific elements within the promoter of estrogen-regulated genes. Alterations in these other factors may also play a role in resistance to hormonal therapies. Aromatase inhibitors, like ovarian ablation, inhibit growth by lowering the estrogen concentration in blood or in the tumor tissue itself. Aromatase inhibitors are effective even in postmenopausal women with low estrogen concentrations - probably because of the ability of the tumor to become hypersensitive to estrogen after prolonged estrogen deprivation. Given that the ER itself is the prime target for endocrine manipulation, the ideal endocrine therapy may be one that reduces or eliminates ER from the tumor cell. Pure steroidal antiestrogens are then of great interest because, not only do they inhibit ER-induced transactivation of estrogen regulated genes, they also induce ER degradation. Additional clinical trials are necessary to identify the optimal endocrine therapy and optimal sequence of available therapies.

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Francesmary Modugno, Robin Laskey, Ashlee L Smith, Courtney L Andersen, Paul Haluska, and Steffi Oesterreich

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer worldwide among women in developed countries and the most lethal of all gynecologic malignancies. There is a critical need for the introduction of targeted therapies to improve outcome. Epidemiological evidence suggests a critical role for steroid hormones in ovarian tumorigenesis. There is also increasing evidence from in vitro studies that estrogen, progestin, and androgen regulate proliferation and invasion of epithelial ovarian cancer cells. Limited clinical trials have shown modest response rates; however, they have consistently identified a small subset of patients that respond very well to endocrine therapy with few side effects. We propose that it is timely to perform additional well-designed trials that should include biomarkers of response.

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M Wijnen, M M van den Heuvel-Eibrink, M Medici, R P Peeters, A J van der Lely, and S J C M M Neggers

Long-term adverse health conditions, including secondary malignant neoplasms, are common in childhood cancer survivors. Although mortality attributable to secondary malignancies declined over the past decades, the risk for developing a solid secondary malignant neoplasm did not. Endocrine-related malignancies are among the most common secondary malignant neoplasms observed in childhood cancer survivors. In this systematic review, we describe risk factors for secondary malignant neoplasms of the breast and thyroid, since these are the most common secondary endocrine-related malignancies in childhood cancer survivors. Radiotherapy is the most important risk factor for secondary breast and thyroid cancer in childhood cancer survivors. Breast cancer risk is especially increased in survivors of Hodgkin lymphoma who received moderate- to high-dosed mantle field irradiation. Recent studies also demonstrated an increased risk after lower-dose irradiation in other radiation fields for other childhood cancer subtypes. Premature ovarian insufficiency may protect against radiation-induced breast cancer. Although evidence is weak, estrogen–progestin replacement therapy does not seem to be associated with an increased breast cancer risk in premature ovarian-insufficient childhood cancer survivors. Radiotherapy involving the thyroid gland increases the risk for secondary differentiated thyroid carcinoma, as well as benign thyroid nodules. Currently available studies on secondary malignant neoplasms in childhood cancer survivors are limited by short follow-up durations and assessed before treatment regimens. In addition, studies on risk-modifying effects of environmental and lifestyle factors are lacking. Risk-modifying effects of premature ovarian insufficiency and estrogen–progestin replacement therapy on radiation-induced breast cancer require further study.

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N Harada, S I Honda, and O Hatano

The effects of two steroidal (4-hydroxyandrostenedione and atamestane) and three non-steroidal (fadrozole, vorozole, and pentrozole) aromatase inhibitors on the levels of aromatase mRNA and protein were examined in vitro and in vivo. Immunocytochemistry revealed increased quantities of immunoreactive aromatase in human choriocarcinoma-derived JEG-3 cells in response to pretreatment with the non-steroidal inhibitors. To elucidate this effect in detail, aromatase protein in JEG-3 cells after treatment with various inhibitors was quantified using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). A time-dependent increase in aromatase protein in the cells was observed with all the aromatase inhibitors except 4-hydroxyandrostenedione, whereas aromatase mRNA levels in the cells remained unchanged during the inhibitor treatment. The three non-steroidal agents caused an approximately fourfold increase in aromatase protein in the cells 24 h after the treatment, as compared with untreated controls. The increase in aromatase protein in the cells was not blocked by treatment with cycloheximide, an inhibitor of protein synthesis. The inhibitors also appeared to block the rapid degradation observed in JEG-3 cells after induction by forskolin. In vivo, daily injection of the inhibitors into adult female mice caused increases in levels of both aromatase mRNA and protein in the ovary. The increase in aromatase mRNA in this in vivo study could be explained by an increase in gonadotropin concentrations in response to decreased plasma concentrations of estrogens. In conclusion, we suggest that aromatase inhibitors increase aromatase protein through stabilization and reduced protein turnover.

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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.

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Tim Byers and Rebecca L Sedjo

Carrying excess body fat is a leading cause of cancer. Epidemiologic evidence gives strong clues about the mechanisms that link excess adiposity to risk for several cancer sites. For postmenopausal breast cancer and endometrial cancer, the hyper-estrogenic state that is induced by excess body fatness is the likely cause. For esophageal cancer and gallbladder cancer, chronic local inflammation induced by acid reflux and gallstones is the likely cause, and for liver cancer, local inflammation induced by hepatic fatty infiltration is the likely cause. However, for several other cancers known to be associated with excess adiposity, including cancers of the colon, pancreas, ovary, kidney, and prostate, specific causes are not known. Possible candidates include elevated systemic or local tissue inflammation induced by adiposity and effects of the elevated levels of leptin, insulin, IGFs, and depressed immune function that are seen with excess adiposity. There is growing evidence that intentional weight loss not only reduces circulating levels of cancer-associated factors but that it also reduces cancer incidence and recurrence. Better research is needed to understand the mechanisms that link excess body fat to cancer risk as well as to understand the amount of weight loss needed for substantial cancer risk reduction. Finally, as we develop better understanding of the mediators of the effects of excess body fatness on cancer risk, we should identify pharmacologic interventions that target those mediators so that they can be used to complement weight loss in order to reduce cancer risk.

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H Sasano, S Sato, K Ito, A Yajima, J Nakamura, M Yoshihama, K Ariga, T J Anderson, and W R Miller

It is very important to examine the influence of inhibition of in situ estrogen production on the pathobiology of human sex steroid-dependent tumors in order to understand the clinical effects of aromatase inhibitors. We have examined the biological changes before and after aromatase inhibitor treatment in vitro (endometrial and ovarian cancer) and in vivo (breast cancer). First, we analyzed these changes using histoculture of 15 human endometrial cancers and 9 ovarian cancers. Five of the fifteen endometrial cancers and four of the nine ovarian cancers demonstrated decreased [3H]thymidine uptake or Ki67 labeling index after 14alpha-hydroxy-4-androstene-3,6,17-trione (NKS01) treatment. In ovarian cancer cases, the responsive cases tended to be associated with higher aromatase and estrogen receptor alpha (ER) expression compared with the other cases but this was not seen in the endometrial cancer cases. There were no changes in ER and aromatase expression before and after NKS01 treatment in either ovarian or endometrial cancer cases. We then studied the same primary human breast tumors before and after aminoglutethimide (AMG, n=3) and 4-hydroxyandrostenedione (4-OHA, n=3) treatment. Tumor aromatase activity increased in 3 cases and decreased or was unchanged in 3 cases but aromatase immunoreactivity in stroma and adipocytes was unaltered in 5 cases. There were no changes in the ER labeling index before or after treatment. Five of the six cases including the responsive cases tended to be associated with decreased cell proliferation or Ki67 expression and increased apoptosis when examined by the TUNEL method. These results indicate that aromatase inhibitors may exert their effects on human breast and other cancers through decreasing proliferation and increasing apoptosis, possibly without altering ER status.

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A C-M Chang, D A Jellinek, and R R Reddel

Stanniocalcin (STC) is a glycoprotein hormone that is secreted by the corpuscle of Stannius, an endocrine gland of bony fish, and is involved in calcium and phosphate homeostasis. The related mammalian proteins, STC1 and STC2, are expressed in a wide variety of tissues. The ovaries have the highest level of STC1, and this increases during pregnancy and lactation. STC1 is present in breast ductal epithelium, and its expression is induced by BRCA1, a tumor suppressor gene that has an important role in breast and ovarian cancer. The expression of STC2 is induced by estrogen, and there is a positive correlation between the level of expression of estrogen receptor and expression of both STC1 and STC2 in breast cancer. This article reviews the data currently available regarding the mammalian STCs, and discusses the roles they may play in normal physiology and in breast and other cancers.

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Silvia Darb-Esfahani, Ralph M Wirtz, Bruno V Sinn, Jan Budczies, Aurelia Noske, Wilko Weichert, Areeg Faggad, Susanne Scharff, Jalid Sehouli, Guelten Oskay-Özcelik, Claudio Zamagni, Pierandrea De Iaco, Andrea Martoni, Manfred Dietel, and Carsten Denkert

Epidemiological and cell culture studies indicate that ovarian carcinoma growth is dependent on estrogen stimulation. However, possibly due to the lack of a reliable biomarker that helps to select patients according to prognostically relevant estrogen receptor (ER) levels, clinical trials using anti-estrogenic therapeutics in ovarian carcinoma have had inconsistent results. Therefore, we tested if ER expression analysis by a quantitative method might be useful in this regard in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue. In a study group of 114 primary ovarian carcinomas expression of estrogen receptor 1 (ESR1) mRNA was analyzed using a new method for RNA extraction from FFPE tissue that is based on magnetic beads, followed by kinetic PCR. The prognostic impact of ESR1 mRNA expression was investigated and compared to ERα protein expression as determined by immunohistochemistry. In univariate survival analysis the expression level of ESR1 mRNA was a significant positive prognostic factor for patient survival (hazard ratio (HR) 0.230 (confidence interval (CI) 0.102–0.516), P=0.002). ERα protein expression was correlated to ESR1 mRNA expression (P=0.0001); however, ERα protein expression did not provide statistically significant prognostic information. In multivariate analysis, ESR1 mRNA expression emerged as a prognostic factor, independent of stage, grade, residual tumor mass, age, and ERα protein expression (HR 0.227 (CI 0.078–0.656), P=0.006). Our results indicate that the determination of ESR1 levels by kinetic PCR may be superior to immunohistochemical methods in assessment of biologically relevant levels of ER expression in ovarian carcinoma, and is feasible in routinely used FFPE tissue.

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David Fu, Xiangmin Lv, Guohua Hua, Chunbo He, Jixin Dong, Subodh M Lele, David Wan-Cheng Li, Qiongli Zhai, John S Davis, and Cheng Wang

The Hippo signaling pathway has been implicated as a conserved regulator of organ size in both Drosophila and mammals. Yes-associated protein (YAP), the central component of the Hippo signaling cascade, functions as an oncogene in several malignancies. Ovarian granulosa cell tumors (GCT) are characterized by enlargement of the ovary, excess production of estrogen, a high frequency of recurrence, and the potential for malignancy and metastasis. Whether the Hippo pathway plays a role in the pathogenesis of GCT is unknown. This study was conducted to examine the expression of YAP in human adult GCTs and to determine the role of YAP in the proliferation and steroidogenesis of GCT cells. Compared with age-matched normal human ovaries, GCT tissues exhibited higher levels of YAP expression. YAP protein was predominantly expressed in the nucleus of tumor cells, whereas the non-tumor ovarian stromal cells expressed very low levels of YAP. YAP was also expressed in cultured primary human granulosa cells and in KGN and COV434 GCT cell lines. siRNA-mediated knockdown of YAP in KGN cells resulted in a significant reduction in cell proliferation (P<0.001). Conversely, overexpression of wild type YAP or a constitutively active YAP (YAP1) mutant resulted in a significant increase in KGN cell proliferation and migration. Moreover, YAP knockdown reduced FSH-induced aromatase (CYP19A1) protein expression and estrogen production in KGN cells. These results demonstrate that YAP plays an important role in the regulation of GCT cell proliferation, migration, and steroidogenesis. Targeting the Hippo/YAP pathway may provide a novel therapeutic approach for GCT.