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Estrogen Exposure

Does estrogen play a role in developing lung cancer?

Estrogen may play a role in developing lung cancer, particularly adenocarcinoma which is more common in women than squamous cell lung cancer.

  • menopause before 40 years of age is associated with a decrease in adenocarcinoma[1].

  • hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk of adenocarcinoma.*

  • there is a positive correlation between HRT, smoking and developing adenocarcinoma.

* Recent findings show that for women who have never smoked, HRT poses no additional risk (Riviera, 2004).

So, what does all this mean?

Basically, the greater one’s lifetime exposure to estrogen, the greater the risk of developing lung cancer. Research has found that late menopause and shorter menstrual cycles are associated with a greater risk of lung cancer[2], while the use of oral contraceptives is associated with a decreased the risk[3].

This data is consistent with the finding that estrogen is a risk factor for adenocarcinomas of the breast and endometrium[1].

How does estrogen increase the risk?

Experimental studies have shown the presence of steroid receptors in some lung tumour types. Estrogen may:

  • directly promote cell proliferation in the lung

  • influence lung carcinogen metabolism

  • influence the development of lung diseases that predispose to lung cancer.


1. Baldini, E.H., Strauss, G.M. (1997) Women and Lung Cancer: Waiting to Exhale. Chest, 112 (4 Suppl): 229S-234S

2. Radzikowska, E., Glaz, P., Rozkowski, K. (2002) Lung cancer in women: age, smoking, histology, performance status, stage, initial treatment and survival. Population-based study of 20,561 cases. Annals of Oncology, 13: 1087-1093.

3. Kure, E.H., Ryberg, D., Hewer, A., Phillips, D.H., Skaug, V., Baera, R., Haugen, A. (1996) p53 mutations in lung tumours: relationship to gender and lung DNA adduct levels. Carcinogenesis, 17(17): 2201-5.

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