Sex Hormones and Tumor Promotion in Liver

James D. Yager, Joanne Zurlo, Nan ni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Epidemiological and experimental data strongly support a causal relationship between exposure to excessive levels of estrogens and the development of cancer in various tissues. In this paper, we have presented background information that shows a correlation between the prolonged use of oral contraceptives and the development of liver cancer. The clinical data supported the hypothesis that the estrogenic components of oral contraceptives were promoters of hepatocarcinogenesis, and the experimental evidence in support of this hypothesis and bearing on the mechanisms involved are also reviewed. The effects of estrogens on liver neoplasia and growth are: (i) synthetic steroidal estrogens are potent promoters of hepatocarcinogenesis in female rats; (ii) these estrogens stimulate liver growth at doses that are not hepatotoxic; (iii) the mechanisms by which the estrogens stimulate liver growth are indirect and include the enhancement of a serum/plasma growth factor, co-mitogenic effects which result in enhanced responsiveness of cultured hepatocytes to epidermal growth factor and decreased sensitivity of hepatocytes to growth inhibition by transforming growth factor-β (iv) the co-mitogenic effects of synthetic estrogens extend to endogenous estrogens and natural product estrogens; and (v) the co-mitogenic effects of estrogens for epidermal growth factor are associated with increased epidermal growth factor receptor protein levels caused by an increase in the half-life of the receptor protein. The synthetic estrogens also have weak “complete” carcinogenic activity in rat liver and strong complete carcinogenic activity in Syrian hamster kidney and Armenian hamster liver. Evidence from the literature is presented in support of a hypothesis that this process may involve indirect genotoxicity mediated through redox cycling and the formation of hydroxylated DNA bases. This process, together with the potent promoting activity of these estrogenic chemicals, may account for their complete carcinogenicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)667-674
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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