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Meghan S Perkins, Renate Louw-du Toit and Donita Africander

Although hormone therapy is widely used by millions of women to relieve symptoms of menopause, it has been associated with several side effects such as coronary heart disease, stroke and increased invasive breast cancer risk. These side effects have caused many women to seek alternatives to conventional hormone therapy, including the controversial custom-compounded bioidentical hormone therapy suggested to not increase breast cancer risk. Historically, estrogens and the estrogen receptor were considered the principal factors promoting breast cancer development and progression; however, a role for other members of the steroid receptor family in breast cancer pathogenesis is now evident, with emerging studies revealing an interplay between some steroid receptors. In this review, we discuss examples of hormone therapy used for the relief of menopausal symptoms, highlighting the distinction between conventional hormone therapy and custom-compounded bioidentical hormone therapy. Moreover, we highlight the fact that not all hormones have been evaluated for an association with increased breast cancer risk. We also summarize the current knowledge regarding the role of steroid receptors in mediating the carcinogenic effects of hormones used in menopausal hormone therapy, with special emphasis on the influence of the interplay or crosstalk between steroid receptors. Unraveling the intertwined nature of steroid hormone receptor signaling pathways in breast cancer biology is of utmost importance, considering that breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women worldwide. Moreover, understanding these mechanisms may reveal novel prevention or treatment options and lead to the development of new hormone therapies that do not cause increased breast cancer risk.