Exogenous progestagens and the human breast

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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The role of progestins (or progestagens) on the breast tissue remains controversial. However, according to the molecule and the duration of application, cell differentiation and apoptosis may predominate over proliferation. Progestins are also used as second-line agents for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer. In young women with benign breast disease, long-term treatment with 19-nortestosterone progestins had a trend to decrease breast cancer risk contrarily to what was observed in postmenopausal women receiving estrogens. Several compounds with progestational activity have been used for HRT. Small differences in the structure of the molecules may lead to pronounced differences in activities, some progestins exerting androgenic effects and some exerting estrogenic or glucocorticoid like activities. While most progestins do not bind to the estrogen receptors, it has been shown that some androgenic progestins stimulate MCF7 cells proliferation while progestins derived from progesterone did not induce cell multiplication in the same cell lines. Therefore, different progestins may induce different effects on the breast cells. Whether the progestins available to date are able to bind specifically to the progesterone receptors PR-A or PR-B and whether this is of clinical relevance to breast cell proliferation is still unclear. Although the relationship between progestin use and breast cancer risk is still the subject of debate and controversy, the data reported to date suggest that 5 years of treatment carry a low risk but further duration of use increases the risk. Further studies are still needed, randomised long-term prospective studies as well as from the laboratory, especially to determine whether a sequential or continuous regimen would be preferable as far as breast-cell response and apoptosis are concerned, and what are the effects of the various molecules used for HRT.