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Home > Understanding Breast Cancer > Breast Cancer Research > Table 7: Blood androgen levels and breast cancer risk


Table 7: Blood androgen levels and breast cancer risk


This summary table contains detailed information about research studies. Summary tables offer an informative look at the science behind many breast cancer guidelines and recommendations. However, they should be viewed with some caution. In order to read and interpret research tables successfully, it is important to understand some key concepts. Learn how to read a research table.

Introduction: Androgens (such as testosterone) are natural hormones. They are important in sexual development in both men and women. In women, androgens are produced in small amounts by the ovaries and the adrenal glands. Similar to higher blood estrogen levels, higher amounts of androgens in the blood may be linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in women.

Of the androgens, testosterone has been the most studied in relation to breast cancer risk.

Blood testosterone levels and breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women

Studies show higher blood levels of testosterone may increase the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Blood androgens and menopausal hormone therapy (postmenopausal hormone use)

Most of the studies below excluded women who were taking menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) at the time of the blood collection. Certain types of MHT might mask the full effect natural blood testosterone levels have on breast cancer risk. By looking only at women who do not take (or who have never taken) MHT, researchers may see more clearly how blood androgen levels affect breast cancer risk. 

Blood testosterone levels and breast cancer risk in premenopausal women

A pooled analysis of data from five studies found that higher levels of blood testosterone increase breast cancer risk in premenopausal women [1].  

Learn more about blood androgen levels and breast cancer risk.

Learn about the strengths and weaknesses of different types of studies.

See how this risk factor compares with other risk factors for breast cancer.

Study selection criteria: Nested case-control studies, case-control studies and pooled analyses with at least 100 breast cancer cases.

Table note: Odds ratios above 1 indicate increased risk. Odds ratios below 1 indicate decreased risk.

Risks related to total testosterone levels (unless noted) are shown in this table. Although free testosterone and/or bioavailable testosterone may also be related to breast cancer risk, many studies have not measured these and data are limited at this time.  


Study Population
(number of participants)

Risk of Breast Cancer in Women with Higher Testosterone Levels
Compared to Women with Lower Testosterone Levels
Odds Ratio (95% CI) 




Nested case-control studies 






Nurses' Health Study [2]




1.5 (1.2-1.9)*

EPIC cohort [3-4]




1.85 (1.33–2.57)




1.73 (1.16-2.57)


Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study [5]




ER+ cancers:
1.55 (0.92-2.61)† 

ER- cancers:
0.51 (0.28-0.94)† 

NYU Women’s Health Study [6-7]




2.05 (1.19-3.53)




1.5 (1.1-2.2)


Nurses' Health Study II [8]



1.01 (0.8-1.4)






1.8 (1.1-2.8)

UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening [9]




2.15 (1.26-3.71)

Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study [10]




1.25 (0.78-2.01)

Manjer et al. [11]




1.87 (1.08-3.25)

ORDET cohort [12]




3.28 (1.93-5.55)

Case-control studies 

Wang et al. [13]



1.41 (0.61-3.26)‡

2.83 (1.20-6.67)

Yu et al. [14]



2.01 (0.96-4.21)

2.40 (1.11-5.21)

Sturgeon et al. [15]



1.12 (0.6-2.5)


Pooled analyses 






EHBCCG [1,16]



1.32 (0.98-1.76)






2.22 (1.59-3.10)

ER+ = estrogen receptor-positive

ER- = estrogen receptor-negative

PR+ = progesterone receptor-positive

PR- = progesterone receptor-negative
* Relative risk for ER+/PR+ breast cancers was 1.8 (1.3-2.5). Relative risk for ER-/PR- breast cancers was 0.6 (0.3-1.2).

† Results for blood levels of bioavailable testosterone.

‡ For testosterone blood levels measured in the luteal phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Testosterone blood levels as measured in the early follicular stage, the risk was also not significant, RR=0.45 (0.17-1.19).   

  1. Endogenous Hormones and Breast Cancer Collaborative Group. Sex hormones and risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women: a collaborative reanalysis of individual participant data from seven prospective studies. Lancet Oncol. 14(10):1009-19, 2013.
  2. Zhang X, Tworoger SS, Eliassen AH, Hankinson SE. Postmenopausal plasma sex hormone levels and breast cancer risk over 20 years of follow-up. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 137(3):883-92, 2013.
  3. Kaaks R, Rinaldi S, Key TJ, et al. Postmenopausal serum androgens, oestrogens and breast cancer risk: the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition. Endocr Relat Cancer. 12(4):1071-82, 2005.
  4. Kaaks R, Berrino F, Key T, et al. Serum sex steroids in premenopausal women and breast cancer risk within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). J Natl Cancer Inst. 97(10):755-65, 2005.
  5. Farhat GN, Cummings SR, Chlebowski RT, et al. Sex hormone levels and risks of estrogen receptor-negative and estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers. J Natl Cancer Inst. 103(7):562-70, 2011.
  6. Zeleniuch-Jacquotte A, Shore RE, Koenig KL, et al. Postmenopausal levels of oestrogen, androgen, and SHBG and breast cancer: long-term results of a prospective study. Br J Cancer. 90(1):153-9, 2004.
  7. Zeleniuch-Jacquotte A, Afanasyeva Y, Kaaks R, et al. Premenopausal serum androgens and breast cancer risk: a nested case-control study. Breast Cancer Res. 14(1):R32, 2012.
  8. Fortner RT, Eliassen AH, Spiegelman D, Willett WC, Barbieri RL, Hankinson SE. Premenopausal endogenous steroid hormones and breast cancer risk: results from the Nurses' Health Study II. Breast Cancer Res. 2013 Mar 6;15(2):R19. [Epub ahead of print].
  9. Fourkala EO, Zaikin A, Burnell M, et al. Association of serum sex steroid receptor bioactivity and sex steroid hormones with breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. Endocr Relat Cancer. 19(2):137-47, 2012.
  10. Baglietto L, Severi G, English DR, et al. Circulating steroid hormone levels and risk of breast cancer for postmenopausal women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 19(2):492-502, 2010.
  11. Manjer J, Johansson R, Berglund G, et al. Postmenopausal breast cancer risk in relation to sex steroid hormones, prolactin and SHBG (Sweden). Cancer Causes Control. 14(7):599-607, 2003.
  12. Sieri S, Krogh V, Bolelli G, et al. Sex hormone levels, breast cancer risk, and cancer receptor status in postmenopausal women: the ORDET cohort. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 18(1):169-76, 2009.
  13. Wang B, Mi M, Wang J, et al. Does the increase of endogenous steroid hormone levels also affect breast cancer risk in Chinese women? A case-control study in Chongqing, China. Int J Cancer. 124(8):1892-9, 2009.
  14. Yu H, Shu XO, Shi R, et al. Plasma sex steroid hormones and breast cancer risk in Chinese women. Int J Cancer. 105(1):92-7, 2003.
  15. Sturgeon SR, Potischman N, Malone KE, et al. Serum levels of sex hormones and breast cancer risk in premenopausal women: a case-control study (USA). Cancer Causes Control. 15(1):45-53, 2004.
  16. Key T, Appleby P, Barnes I, Reeves G for the Endogenous Hormones and Breast Cancer Collaborative Group. Endogenous sex hormones and breast cancer in postmenopausal women: reanalysis of nine prospective studies. J Natl Cancer Inst. 94(8):606-16, 2002.

Updated 10/31/13