Relation of serum levels of testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate to risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women

Anne Zeleniuch-Jacquotte, Peter F. Bruning, Johannes M.G. Bonfrer, Karen L. Koenig, Roy E. Shore, Mimi Y. Kim, Bernard S. Pasternack, Paolo Toniolo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


The authors examined the relation between postmenopausal serum levels of testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) and subsequent risk of breast cancer in a case-control study nested within the New York University Women's Health Study cohort. A specific objective of their analysis was to examine whether androgens had an effect on breast cancer risk independent of their effect on the biologic availability of estrogen. A total of 130 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed prior to 1991 in a cohort of 7,054 postmenopausal women who had donated blood and completed questionnaires at a breast cancer screening clinic in New York City between 1985 and 1991. For each case, two controls were selected, matching the case on age at blood donation and length of storage of serum specimens. Biochemical analyses were performed on sere that had been stored at -80°C since sampling. The present report includes a subset of 85 matched sets, for whom at least 6 months had elapsed between blood donation and diagnosis of the case. In univariate analysis, testosterone was positively associated with breast cancer risk (odds ratio (OR) for the highest quartile = 2.7, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.1-6.8, p < 0.05, test for trend). However, after including % estradiol bound to sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) and total estradiol in the statistical model, the odds ratios associated with higher levels of testosterone were considerably reduced, and there was no longer a significant trend (OR for the highest quartile = 1.2, 95% CI 0.4-3.5). Conversely, breast cancer risk remained positively associated with total estradiol levels (OR for the highest quartile = 2.9, 95% CI 1.0-8.3) and negatively associated with % estradiol bound to SHBG (OR for the highest quartile = 0.05, 95% CI 0.01-0.19) after adjustment for serum testosterone levels. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that testosterone has an indirect effect on breast cancer risk, via its influence on the amount of bioavailable estrogen. No evidence was found of an association between DHEAS and risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1030-1038
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • androgens
  • breast neoplasms
  • estrogens
  • testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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