The Year in Basic Science: Update of Estrogen Plus Progestin Therapy for Menopausal Hormone Replacement Implicating Stem Cells in the Increased Breast Cancer Risk

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This transcript is based on my The Year in Basic Science lecture at ENDO 2008. I reviewed current data surrounding hormone replacement therapy and the relationship between systemic estrogen plus progestin (E+P) treatment and increased breast cancer risk, and I explored the hypothesis that women who develop breast cancer while on E+P had occult, undiagnosed disease before they started therapy. Beginning with recent hormone replacement therapy data focusing on E+P and its association with breast cancer to set the stage, the lecture then reviewed our newly published data that progestins expand breast cancer stem cells. Finally, the issues of occult or undiagnosed breast cancer in presumably healthy women, and of tumor dormancy in breast cancer survivors, were brought to bear on the discussion. Taken together, these apparently disparate themes allowed me to suggest the idea that systemic progestins have the ability to reawaken cancers that were presumed to be either nonexistent or cured. To avoid this potentially devastating outcome while retaining the benefits of E+P, I advocated the use of local P delivery methods, rather than the currently popular systemic routes.

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