The successful use of high-dose synthetic estrogens to treat postmenopausal metastatic breast cancer is the first effective ‘chemical therapy’ proven in clinical trial to treat any cancer. This review documents the clinical use of estrogen for breast cancer treatment or estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) in postmenopausal hysterectomized women, which can either result in breast cancer cell growth or breast cancer regression. This has remained a paradox since the 1950s until the discovery of the new biology of estrogen-induced apoptosis at the end of the 20th century. The key to triggering apoptosis with estrogen is the selection of breast cancer cell populations that are resistant to long-term estrogen deprivation. However, estrogen-independent growth occurs through trial and error. At the cellular level, estrogen-induced apoptosis is dependent upon the presence of the estrogen receptor (ER), which can be blocked by nonsteroidal or steroidal antiestrogens. The shape of an estrogenic ligand programs the conformation of the ER complex, which, in turn, can modulate estrogen-induced apoptosis: class I planar estrogens (e.g., estradiol) trigger apoptosis after 24 h, whereas class II angular estrogens (e.g., bisphenol triphenylethylene) delay the process until after 72 h. This contrasts with paclitaxel, which causes G2 blockade with immediate apoptosis. The process is complete within 24 h. Estrogen-induced apoptosis is modulated by glucocorticoids and cSrc inhibitors, but the target mechanism for estrogen action is genomic and not through a nongenomic pathway. The process is stepwise through the creation of endoplasmic reticulum stress and inflammatory responses, which then initiate an unfolded protein response. This, in turn, initiates apoptosis through the intrinsic pathway (mitochondrial) with the subsequent recruitment of the extrinsic pathway (death receptor) to complete the process. The symmetry of the clinical and laboratory studies now permits the creation of rules for the future clinical application of ERT or phytoestrogen supplements: a 5-year gap is necessary after menopause to permit the selection of estrogen-deprived breast cancer cell populations to cause them to become vulnerable to apoptotic cell death. Earlier treatment with estrogen around menopause encourages growth of ER-positive tumor cells, as the cells are still dependent on estrogen to maintain replication within the expanding population. An awareness of the evidence that the molecular events associated with estrogen-induced apoptosis can be orchestrated in the laboratory in estrogen-deprived breast cancers now supports the clinical findings regarding the treatment of metastatic breast cancer following estrogen deprivation, decreases in mortality following long-term antihormonal adjuvant therapy, and the results of treatment with ERT and ERT plus progestin in the Women's Health Initiative for women over the age of 60. Principles have emerged for understanding and applying physiological estrogen therapy appropriately by targeting the correct patient populations.
V Craig Jordan
V Craig Jordan
Tamoxifen is an unlikely pioneering medicine in medical oncology. Nevertheless, the medicine has continued to surprise us, perform, and save lives for the past 40 years. Unlike any other medicine in oncology, it is used to treat all stages of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ, and male breast cancer and pioneered the use of chemoprevention by reducing the incidence of breast cancer in women at high risk and induces ovulation in subfertile women! The impact of tamoxifen is ubiquitous. However, the power to save lives from this unlikely success story came from the first laboratory studies which defined that ‘longer was going to be better’ when tamoxifen was being considered as an adjuvant therapy. This is that success story, with a focus on the interdependent components of: excellence in drug discovery, investment in self-selecting young investigators, a conversation with Nature, a conversation between the laboratory and the clinic, and the creation of the Oxford Overview Analysis. Each of these factors was essential to propel the progress of tamoxifen to evolve as an essential part of the fabric of society.
Philipp Y Maximov, Balkees Abderrahman, Ramona F Curpan, Yousef M Hawsawi, Ping Fan and V Craig Jordan
Prostate and breast cancer are the two cancers with the highest incidence in men and women, respectively. Here, we focus on the known biology of acquired resistance to antihormone therapy of prostate and breast cancer and compare laboratory and clinical similarities in the evolution of the disease. Laboratory studies and clinical observations in prostate and breast cancer demonstrate that cell selection pathways occur during acquired resistance to antihormonal therapy. Following sex steroid deprivation, both prostate and breast cancer models show an initial increased acquired sensitivity to the growth potential of sex steroids. Subsequently, prostate and breast cancer cells either become dependent upon the antihormone treatment or grow spontaneously in the absence of hormones. Paradoxically, the physiologic sex steroids now kill a proportion of selected, but vulnerable, resistant tumor cells. The sex steroid receptor complex triggers apoptosis. We draw parallels between acquired resistance in prostate and breast cancer to sex steroid deprivation. Clinical observations and patient trials confirm the veracity of the laboratory studies. We consider therapeutic strategies to increase response rates in clinical trials of metastatic disease that can subsequently be applied as a preemptive salvage adjuvant therapy. The goal of future advances is to enhance response rates and deploy a safe strategy earlier in the treatment plan to save lives. The introduction of a simple evidence-based enhanced adjuvant therapy as a global healthcare strategy has the potential to control recurrence, reduce hospitalization, reduce healthcare costs and maintain a healthier population that contributes to society.