Relationships of sex steroid hormone levels in benign and cancerous breast tissue and blood: A critical appraisal of current science

Frank Z. Stanczyk, Brett W. Mathews, Mark E. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


A systematic review of the literature on sex steroid measurement in breast tissue identified only 19 articles meeting the following criteria: menopausal status given; steroids measured in tissue homogenates by conventional RIA with a purification step or by mass spectrometry; and values reported per g tissue or per g protein. Twelve articles were analyzed in detail for: ratios of sex steroid hormone levels in cancerous or benign tissues to blood levels, stratified by menopausal status; ratios between the different hormone levels within tissues or within blood; and difference in these ratios between tissue and blood compartments. Estrogen and androgen concentrations varied greatly in benign and cancerous tissues and in blood between individuals. Postmenopausal, but not premenopausal, estradiol concentrations were significantly higher in cancerous compared to benign breast tissue. The estradiol/estrone ratio was lowest in premenopausal benign tissue, and substantially higher in premenopausal cancerous tissue and postmenopausal benign and cancerous tissues. Estradiol and estrone levels were considerably higher in tissue than in plasma in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Androgen levels were generally higher in the benign than the cancerous tissue, and tissue androgen levels were higher than in plasma, suggesting in situ aromatization of androgens to estrogens in breast cancer tissue. Limited available data on levels of hydroxylated estrogens in breast tissue compared to corresponding levels in plasma or urine were reviewed, but due to the paucity of studies no conclusions can presently be drawn regarding the relationship of the 2-hydroxyestrone:16α-hydroxyestrone ratio to breast cancer risk and genotoxic effects of 4-hydroxylated estrogens. Finally, data on hormone levels in breast adipose tissue were analyzed; high levels of androstenedione and testosterone and significant estrone and estradiol levels in breast adipocytes from postmenopausal breast cancer patients are consistent with an obesity-inflammation-aromatase axis occurring locally in breast tissue. The controversies regarding the source of intratumoral estrogens in the breast are summarized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-102
Number of pages12
Issue numberPart A
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Abbreviations IDC invasive ductal carcinoma
  • DCIS ductal carcinoma in situ
  • TDLU terminal ductal lobular unit

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry


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