Epidemiologic studies of estrogen metabolism and breast cancer.

Author(s): Ziegler RG,  Fuhrman BJ,  Moore SC,  Matthews CE

Journal: Steroids

Date: 2015 Jul

Major Program(s) or Research Group(s): PLCO

PubMed ID: 25725255

PMC ID: PMC5722219

Abstract: Early epidemiologic studies of estrogen metabolism measured only 2-hydroxyestrone and 16α-hydroxyestrone and relied on direct enzyme immunoassays without purification steps. Eight breast cancer studies have used these assays with prospectively collected blood or urine samples. Results were inconsistent, and generally not statistically significant; but the assays had limited specificity, especially at the low concentrations characteristic of postmenopausal women. To facilitate continued testing in population-based studies of the multiple laboratory-based hypotheses about the roles of estrogen metabolites, a novel liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) assay was developed to measure concurrently all 15 estrogens and estrogen metabolites in human serum and urine, as unconjugated and total (glucuronidated+sulfated+unconjugated) concentrations. The assay has high sensitivity (lower limit of quantitation ∼1-2 pmol/L), reproducibility (coefficients of variation generally ⩽5%), and accuracy. Three prospective studies utilizing this comprehensive assay have demonstrated that enhanced 2-hydroxylation of parent estrogens (estrone+estradiol) is associated with reduced risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. In the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial (PLCO) cohort, the serum ratio of 2-hydroxylation pathway metabolites to parent estrogens was associated with a 28% reduction in breast cancer risk across extreme deciles (p-trend=.05), after adjusting for unconjugated estradiol and breast cancer risk factors. Incorporating this ratio into a risk prediction model already including unconjugated estradiol improved absolute risk estimates substantially (by ⩾14%) in 36% of the women, an encouraging result that needs replication. Additional epidemiologic studies of the role of estrogen metabolism in the etiology of hormone-related diseases and continued improvement of estrogen metabolism assays are justified.