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Breast Cancer Research and Treatment

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 267–285 | Cite as

“Studies on the estrogen receptor in breast cancer” — 20 years as a target for the treatment and prevention of cancer

  • V. Craig Jordan
Third Annual William L. McGuire Memorial Lecture

Summary

In 1973, McGuire and Chamness (In: O'Malley BW and Means AR (eds) Receptors for Reproductive Hormones, Plenum Press) summarized their work on the estrogen receptor in animal and human breast tumors, and in so doing described a target for therapeutic intervention. At that time there were no clinically useful antiestrogens, but the subsequent development of tamoxifen for breast cancer therapy has revolutionized the approach to treatment. Long-term adjuvant tamoxifen adjuvant therapy (i.e. greater than one year) has proven efficacy to enhance the survival of breast cancer patients. In addition, because there is an associated 40% decrease in contralateral breast cancer during adjuvant tamoxifen therapy and tamoxifen maintains bone density and reduces fatal myocardial infarction, clinical trials to test the worth of tamoxifen as a preventive for breast cancer in high risk women have started in the United States, United Kingdom, and Italy. Initial concerns that long-term tamoxifen causes endometrial cancer have been placed in perspective and analyzed by a review of the literature. Tamoxifen only doubles the normal risk of detecting endometrial cancer, (i.e. to 2 per 1,000 tamoxifen-treated women per year), and 80% of these cases are early stage, good prognosis disease. Annual gynecological examinations and education are essential to provide reassurance for patients.

The success of tamoxifen has encouraged the development of new antiestrogens to exploit the estrogen receptor as a therapeutic target. Droloxifene and TAT-59 mimic the metabolite 4-hydroxytamoxifen in having a high affinity for the estrogen receptor (Jordan et al, J Endocrinol 75:305, 1977). These drugs appear to have a pharmacological profile similar to tamoxifen. In contrast, the new pure antiestrogens have a distinct mechanism of action and will be valuable either as a first line therapy for advanced breast cancer or as a second line endocrine therapy after the failure of long-term adjuvant tamoxifen therapy.

Finally, a new strategy is being developed to exploit the target site specific action of antiestrogens. Raloxifene, an antiestrogen with high affinity for the estrogen receptor but only weak estrogenicity for the uterus, prevents rat mammary tumorigenesis and maintains bone density. The drug is to be evaluated as a treatment for osteoporosis, but may also prevent the development of breast and endometrial cancer in a broad group of treated subjects.

The identification of the estrogen receptor as a target for therapeutic opportunities has proved to be extremely beneficial for the control of breast cancer and has the added potential to control osteoporosis and coronary heart disease in women.

Key words

estrogen receptor tamoxifen prevention endometrial cancer raloxifene long-term adjuvant therapy 

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. Craig Jordan
    • 1
  1. 1.Robert H. Lurie Cancer CenterNorthwestern University Medical SchoolChicagoUSA

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