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J Clin Oncol. 1998 Sep;16(9):3115-20.

Low biologic aggressiveness in breast cancer in women using hormone replacement therapy.

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  • 1Department of Oncology, University Hospital of Tampere, Institute of Medical Technology, University of Tampere, Finland.



Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been associated with an increased risk for breast cancer. Cancers in women who use HRT are often less advanced, and lower mortality has been reported in those who use HRT than in nonusers. We sought to explain this by a comparison of indicators of tumor aggressiveness in patients who received HRT with those in patients who did not.


A population-based cohort of 477 postmenopausal women with breast cancer were interviewed for the use, type, and duration of HRT. Clinical variables and indicators of tumor aggressiveness (histologic grade, hormone receptors, DNA ploidy, S-phase fraction, and c-erbB-2 oncoprotein overexpression) were analyzed.


Breast tumors from HRT users were smaller (odds ratio, 0.47; P=.005), had better histologic differentiation (P=.04), and had a lower proliferation rate (S-phase fraction, P=.009) than tumors from nonusers. These differences persisted after adjustments for age and method of diagnosis (mammography screening v self-referral) by multiple logistic regression. No significant differences were observed in the estrogen (ER) or progesterone receptor content, c-erbB-2 oncogene overexpression, or axillary node involvement. A subgroup analysis showed that the tumor proliferation rates among HRT users were significantly lower only if HRT had been used at the time of diagnosis (P=.001). The type of HRT (estrogen v combination of estrogen and progesterone) was not associated with any clinical parameter or tumor phenotype. The association of HRT with lower proliferation rate and smaller tumor size was exclusively caused by ER-positive tumors (P=.0001 and P=.0035 v P > .1, respectively).


The results indicate that breast cancer in women who receive HRT is biologically less aggressive than those without previous HRT. The lower cell-proliferation rate and smaller tumor size found in ER-positive tumors from current HRT users suggest a direct ER-mediated growth inhibitory effect of HRT on established breast tumors. This may at least partly explain why breast cancer in HRT users has a more favorable clinical course.

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