BACKGROUND: Despite the clear endocrine-metabolic relationship between androgenic activity and adiposity, the role of androgens in breast cancer prognosis according to patient's adiposity is scarcely explored. Here, we aimed at investigating the prognostic value of circulating testosterone in association with patient's body mass index (BMI).
METHODS: Circulating testosterone and BMI were evaluated at breast cancer diagnosis in 460 estrogen receptor (ER)-positive postmenopausal patients. Local relapse, distant metastasi(e)s and contralateral breast cancer were considered recurrence events. The Kruskal-Wallis test was performed to evaluate if testosterone levels differed within subgroups of categorical tumour characteristics. The Cox proportional hazard regression model was fitted to estimate the impact of standard prognostic factors on relapse-specific hazard ratio (HR). After backward selection, a model including continuous testosterone level, BMI categories (< 25, normal-weight; =25-30, overweight; ≥30 kg/m2, obese), tumour size and lymph nodes number was fitted. Furthermore, Cox models provided the relapse-specific HRs for median, third quartile and 95th percentile compared to the first quartile of testosterone levels, stratified by BMI categories.
RESULTS: During a median follow up of 6.3 years, 45 patients relapsed. Testosterone levels significantly increased across BMI categories (p = 0.001). Both circulating testosterone and BMI were positively associated with disease free survival (p = 0.005 and p = 0.021, respectively). A significant interaction was found between testosterone and BMI (p = 0.006). For normal-weight women, testosterone concentration around median (0.403 ng/mL) or third quartile (0.532 ng/mL) showed a high significant HR of relapse (5.52; 95% CI:1.65-18.49 and 4.55; 95% CI:1.09-18.98, respectively). Overweight patients showed increased HR at increasing testosterone levels, reaching a significant high HR (4.68; 95% CI:1.39-15.70) for testosterone values of 0.782 ng/mL (95th percentile). For obese patients HR decreased (not significantly) at increased testosterone concentrations, explaining the interaction between testosterone levels and BMI categories.
CONCLUSIONS: In ER-positive postmenopausal breast cancer patients, high testosterone levels are associated with worse prognosis in normal-weight and overweight women, whereas in obese seems to be associated with a better outcome. Although the results require further validation, they suggest that assessment of circulating testosterone and BMI could help to identify postmenopausal ER-positive patients at higher risk of relapse and potentially open new therapeutic strategies.