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Recent research has found new evidence about the positive role of androgens, commonly thought of as male sex hormones but also found at lower levels in women, in breast cancer treatment.
In normal breast development, estrogen stimulates and androgen inhibits growth at puberty and throughout adult life.
Breast cancer initially starts when the cells around the breast begin to grow out of control - abnormally. These outgrown cells then form a tumor - the beginning of the cancer formation. When the tumor forms, one can notice either colour change around the chest area (specifically near the nipples or formation of lumps.
Tumors are of two types - Benign and Malign. A benign tumor is one which is not life-threatening and malign tumor are those which can lead to life-threatening cancer formations.
Abnormal estrogen activity is responsible for the majority of breast cancers, but the role of androgen activity in this disease has been controversial.
The research which was published in the journal Nature Medicine showed that androgens have the potential for the treatment of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.
According to the experts, cancer is called estrogen receptor-positive if it has receptors for estrogen.
Using cell-line and patient-derived models, the researchers demonstrated that androgen receptor activation by natural androgen or a new androgenic drug had potent anti-tumor activity in all estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers, even those resistant to current standard-of-care treatments.
"This work has immediate implications for women with metastatic estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, including those resistant to current forms of endocrine therapy," said lead researcher Theresa Hickey, Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide.
"We provide compelling new experimental evidence that androgen receptor stimulating drugs can be more effective than existing (e.g. Tamoxifen) or new (e.g. Palbociclib) standard-of-care treatments and, in the case of the latter, can be combined to enhance growth inhibition," said Wayne Tilley, Director of the Dame Roma Mitchell Cancer Research Laboratories, Adelaide Medical School, University of Adelaide.
Androgens were historically used to treat breast tumors, but knowledge of hormone receptors in breast tissue was rudimentary at the time and the treatment's efficacy misunderstood.
Androgen therapy was discontinued due to virilizing side effects and the advent of anti-estrogenic endocrine therapies.
While endocrine therapy is standard-of-care for estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, resistance to these drugs is the major cause of breast cancer mortality.
"The new insights from this study should clarify the widespread confusion over the role of the androgen receptor in estrogen receptor driven breast cancer," said Elgene Lim, a breast oncologist and Head of the Connie Johnson Breast Cancer Research Lab at the Garvan Institute.
"Given the efficacy of this treatment strategy at multiple stages of disease in our study, we hope to translate these findings into clinical trials as a new class of endocrine therapy for breast cancer."
Now, that you know that male sex hormones may help treat breast cancer, let's understand that the first rule of fighting off disease is to know the symptoms and signs. Here are some of the warning symptoms and signs of breast cancer:
1. Pain near the nipple area is becoming unbearable.
2. You may notice your nipples are getting pulled inwards.
3. Abnormal discharge from the nipple.
4. Lump formation in and around your breast area.
5. Redness and flaky skin near your areolar (brown part of your breast)
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