Pregnancy hormonal environment and mother's breast cancer risk

Leena Hilakivi-Clarke, Sonia de Assis, Anni Warri, Riitta Luoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Pregnancy can both reduce and increase lifetime breast cancer risk, and it also induces a short-term, transient increase in risk. Several biological mechanisms have been proposed to explain the protective effect, including pregnancy-induced increase in circulating estrogen levels leading to reduced estrogen receptor (ER) expression and activity. Persistent changes in ER-regulated gene expression may then alter the response of the breast to postpregnancy hormonal exposures originating, for example, from food. Understanding how pregnancy increases breast cancer risk has received less attention. Human studies indicate that those women who were exposed to an elevated pregnancy estrogenic environment, such as women who took the synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol or who had the highest circulating estrogen levels at the beginning or end of pregnancy, are at increased risk of developing breast cancer. There is also evidence that elevated leptin levels, for example, in pregnant women who gained excessive amount of weight, increase later breast cancer risk. This may reflect a close interaction between estradiol (E2), ER, and leptin. Our preclinical study suggests that an exposure to excess pregnancy E2 and leptin levels reverses the protective changes in genomic signaling pathways seen in the breast/mammary gland of parous women and rodents. Recent findings indicate that involution – the period after lactation when the breast regresses back to prepregnancy stage–may be related to some pregnancy-associated breast cancers. Importantly, in a preclinical model, the increase can be reversed by anti-inflammatory treatment, offering hope that the increase in lifelong breast cancer risk induced by late first pregnancy or by an exposure of pregnant women to an excessive hormonal environment may be reversible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-23
Number of pages13
JournalHormone Molecular Biology and Clinical Investigation
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • breast cancer
  • estradiol
  • leptin
  • pregnancy


Dive into the research topics of 'Pregnancy hormonal environment and mother's breast cancer risk'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this