Circulating androgens and postmenopausal ovarian cancer risk in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study

Britton Trabert, Kara A. Michels, Garnet L. Anderson, Louise A. Brinton, Roni T. Falk, Ashley M. Geczik, Holly R. Harris, Kathy Pan, Ruth M. Pfeiffer, Lihong Qi, Thomas Rohan, Nicolas Wentzensen, Xia Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Our knowledge of epidemiologic risk factors for ovarian cancer supports a role for androgens in the pathogenesis of this disease; however, few studies have examined associations between circulating androgens and ovarian cancer risk. Using highly sensitive LC–MS/MS assays, we evaluated associations between pre-diagnostic serum levels of 12 androgens, including novel androgen metabolites that reflect androgen activity in tissues, and ovarian cancer risk among postmenopausal women in a nested case–control study in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) Observational Study (OS). We frequency-matched 169 ovarian cancer cases to 410 controls from women enrolled in WHI-OS who were not using menopausal hormones at enrollment/blood draw. We estimated associations overall and by subtype (n = 102 serous/67 non-serous) using multivariable adjusted logistic regression. Androgen/androgen metabolite levels were not associated with overall ovarian cancer risk. In analyses by subtype, women with increased levels of androsterone-glucuronide (ADT-G) and total 5-α reduced glucuronide metabolites (markers of tissue-level androgenic activity) were at increased risk of developing non-serous ovarian cancer: ADT-G tertile (T)3 versus T1 odds ratio [OR] (95% confidence interval [CI]) 4.36 (1.68–11.32), p-heterogeneity 0.002; total glucuronide metabolites 3.63 (1.47–8.95), 0.002. Risk of developing serous tumors was unrelated to these markers. ADT-G and total glucuronide metabolites, better markers of tissue-level androgenic activity in women than testosterone, were associated with an increased risk of developing non-serous ovarian cancer. Our work demonstrates that sex steroid metabolism is important in the etiology of non-serous ovarian cancers and supports a heterogeneous hormonal etiology across histologic subtypes of ovarian cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2051-2060
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 15 2019


  • androgen metabolites
  • androgenic activity
  • endogenous androgens
  • heterogeneity
  • nested case–control study
  • ovarian cancer risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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