Estrogen, estrogen receptors, and hepatocellular carcinoma: Are we there yet?
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A protective role of the sex steroid hormone estrogen in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) was suggested a few decades ago according to clinical data showing higher HCC morbidity and mortality among males. Several recent studies further confirmed the anti-cancer effects of estrogen in the liver. However, it remains to be identified how to exploit estrogen signalling within clinical settings for HCC treatment. There are several unresolved issues related to the estrogen pathway in liver cells. The main problems include the absence of a clear understanding of which estrogen receptor (ER) isoform is predominantly expressed in normal and malignant liver cells, the ER isoform expression difference between males and females, and which ER isoform should be targeted when designing HCC therapy. Some of those questions were recently addressed by Iyer and co-authors. The current editorial review critically analyses the study by Iyer et al (WJG, 2017) that investigated the expression of ER subtypes in liver samples collected from patients with a healthy liver, hepatitis C virus cirrhosis, and HCC. ER presence was evaluated in association with gender, intracellular localization, inflammation marker NF-κB, and proliferation-related effector cyclin D1. The study limitations and advantages are discussed in light of recent advances in the HCC and estrogen signalling areas.
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