Epidemiologic studies of estrogen metabolism and breast cancer

Regina G. Ziegler*, Barbara J. Fuhrman, Steven C. Moore, Charles E. Matthews

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-75
Number of pages9
Issue numberPart A
StatePublished - 26 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • 16α-hydroxyestrone
  • 2-hydroxyestrone
  • Breast cancer
  • Estradiol
  • Estrogen metabolites
  • Hormonal carcinogenesis


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