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Association of Circulating Progesterone With Breast Cancer Risk Among Postmenopausal Women

Trabert B1, Bauer DC2, Buist DSM3, Cauley JA4, Falk RT1, Geczik AM1, Gierach GL1, Hada M1, et al.

JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Apr 1;3(4):e203645. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.3645.

The role of endogenous progesterone in the development of breast cancer remains largely unexplored to date, primarily owing to assay sensitivity limitations and low progesterone concentrations in postmenopausal women. Recently identified progesterone metabolites may provide insights as experimental data suggest that 5α-dihydroprogesterone (5αP) concentrations reflect cancer-promoting properties and 3α-dihydroprogesterone (3αHP) concentrations reflect cancer-inhibiting properties. Objective: To evaluate the association between circulating progesterone and progesterone metabolite levels and breast cancer risk. Design, Setting, and Participants: Using a sensitive liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry assay, prediagnostic serum levels of progesterone and progesterone metabolites were quantified in a case-cohort study nested within the Breast and Bone Follow-up to the Fracture Intervention Trial (n = 15 595). Participation was limited to women not receiving exogenous hormone therapy at the time of blood sampling (1992-1993). Incident breast cancer cases (n = 405) were diagnosed during 12 follow-up years and a subcohort of 495 postmenopausal women were randomly selected within 10-year age and clinical center strata. Progesterone assays were completed in July 2017; subsequent data analyses were conducted between July 15, 2017, and December 20, 2018. Exposures: Circulating concentrations of pregnenolone, progesterone, and their major metabolites. Main Outcomes and Measures: Development of breast cancer, with hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% CIs was estimated using Cox proportional hazards regression adjusted for key confounders, including estradiol. Evaluation of hormone ratios and effect modification were planned a priori. Results: The present study included 405 incident breast cancer cases and a subcohort of 495 postmenopausal women; the mean (SD) age at the time of the blood draw was 67.2 (6.2) years. Progesterone concentrations were a mean (SD) of 4.6 (1.7) ng/dL. Women with higher circulating progesterone levels were at an increased risk for breast cancer per SD increase in progesterone levels (HR, 1.16; 95% CI, 1.00-1.35; P = .048). The association with progesterone was linear in a 5-knot spline and stronger for invasive breast cancers (n = 267) (HR, 1.24; 95% CI, 1.07-1.43; P = .004). Among women in the lowest quintile (Q1) of circulating estradiol (<6.30 pg/mL) elevated progesterone concentrations were associated with reduced breast cancer risk per SD increase in progesterone levels (HR, 0.38; 95% CI, 0.15-0.95; P = .04) and increased risk among women in higher quintiles of estradiol (Q2-Q5; ≥6.30 pg/mL) (HR, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.04-1.35; P = .01; P = .04 for interaction). Conclusions and Relevance: In this case-cohort study of postmenopausal women, elevated circulating progesterone levels were associated with a 16% increase in the risk of breast cancer. Additional research should be undertaken to assess how postmenopausal breast cancer risk is associated with both endogenous progesterone and progesterone metabolites and their interactions with estradiol.