This article focuses on the major hormones and growth factors for which a critical role in normal mammary growth has been clearly defined. Certainly other hormonal systems and growth factors could also affect breast cancer initiation and progression, but their exact contribution to normal and/or malignant breast cell growth is poorly delineated. Examples of such factors include somatostatin, mammostatin, mammary-derived growth inhibitor (MDGI), mammary-derived growth factor-1 (MDGF-1), inhibins, activins, androgens, glucocorticoids, vitamin D, thyroid hormones, ecosinoids, and oxytocin. Clearly, the hormonal regulation of breast cancer cell growth and survival is multifaceted and very complex. In particular, the effects of estrogens and anti-estrogens on breast cells may depend on their interaction with a wide variety of other pathways. In addition, these interactions may vary among individual breast tumors depending on other genetic changes in the tumor cells that have not been discussed here, such as oncogene activation and loss of tumor suppressors. A more detailed understanding of how cells circumvent a dependency on these pathways is greatly needed in order to identify new biological targets and to design novel therapies for breast cancers that are resistant to antiestrogen therapy. Such agents could be used alone or in combination with anti-estrogens to improve response to a second course of hormonal therapy.
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