Linking Breast Cancer & Hormones

HORMONES INFLUENCE BREAST CANCER THEY DON'T CAUSE IT.

 

If you’ve watched any of the NFL games lately, then you know from the pink shoes, pink socks and pink ribbons that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Some people are tired of all the pink. I’m not. For me, it’s a reminder to be diligent in choosing a healthy lifestyle, and an opportunity to continue my ongoing discovery on how to do that. So, during this month of Pink, I’ll share with you some of the things that I’ve learned about how to reduce our risk of breast cancer.

IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN HORMONES AND BREAST CANCER?

Yes, there’s a link between hormones and breast cancer. High amounts of estrogen in the blood may increase a woman’s breast cancer risk*1. The hormone estrogen is created naturally in a woman’s body and is essential to the development of the female reproductive system. From our first menstrual period until menopause, estrogen stimulates normal breast cells. It has many non-reproductive functions as well. For example, it helps lower cholesterol, regulate mood, and keep our bones and heart strong. Most estrogen is produced in the ovaries, but smaller amounts are produced in the liver, the adrenal glands, and the breasts. After menopause, estrogen is produced mainly in fat tissue. According to the National Cancer, elevated estrogen levels are a risk factor for breast cancer.*2

HOW DO HORMONES CONTRIBUTE TO BREAST CANCER?

Many of the cells throughout our body – both healthy cells and potentially cancerous ones – contain hormone receptors. These receptors stimulate cell growth when they come in contact with certain hormones. For instance, as estrogen circulates through our bloodstream, it attaches to the estrogen receptors in cancerous cells, causing the cancerous cells to divide and accumulate in our body. In the absence of estrogen, these same cells would stop growing and eventually die. That’s why we need to limit our exposure to hormones. The amount of time our body is exposed to these hormones may increase our risk of breast cancer, as the increased hormones can help cancer cells grow. Circumstances that raise our estrogen levels may include:

  • Early menstruation – before age 12.

  • Taking oral contraceptives in the past 10 years.

  • Giving birth to your first child after 35, or not having children at all; because pregnancy suppresses estrogen levels.

  • Not breastfeeding, since breastfeeding, like pregnancy, suppresses estrogen levels.

  • Late menopause – after age 55.

  • Taking hormone replacement therapy in menopause.

  • Being overweight, especially after menopause. The body makes some of its estrogen in fat tissue, so higher weight means more fat tissue and higher estrogen levels. In fact, some studies suggest that being overweight in menopause can increase your risk by 30-60%.

  • Environmental or artificial estrogens – synthetic substances that behave like the hormone estrogen when they’re absorbed by your body. You may be exposed to these environmental estrogens in some plastics, certain skin creams, some cleaning products, pesticides and weed killers. It’s not yet clear what role these artificial estrogens play in the development of breast cancer, but there is evidence that it is a negative effect.

WHAT CAN I DO TO LIMIT MY EXPOSURE TO EXCESSIVE HORMONES?

THINK TWICE

Consider how your non-medical choices can also enhance your overall health—and your personal risk of breast cancer. Every time you eat, drink, or use products, you have an opportunity to make healthy changes in your life.

AVOID TAKING EXTRA HORMONES

It’s best to avoid exposing your body to extra hormones, such as estrogen, which are contained in medications such as birth control pills and menopausal hormone replacement therapy. Consider non-hormonal solutions, such as an intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception, lubrication for vaginal dryness, and meditation and acupuncture for hot flashes. If you feel that you require hormonal medication to improve or maintain your quality of life, talk to your doctor. You can limit your risk by taking the lowest dose for the shortest time possible.

CHOOSE SAFE PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS

It’s best to buy products that are made without toxic chemicals. What goes on us can go in us. Ingredients including hormone extracts can be absorbed into the body. Avoid parabens, sulfates, phthalates, petrochemicals and artificial dyes. Some of these chemicals have been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer. Instead of a moisturizer with ingredients you can’t pronounce, choose products that have natural ingredients, such as coconut oil or shea butter and botanical extracts. For information on safer ingredients and product options, visit http://www.naturalinspirations.com/ingredient-philosophy/

Change is a journey. You have to start somewhere. Whether it’s making the choice to avoid unnecessary hormones or rethinking your personal care product choices, roll up your sleeves and get busy. Some changes may be easy to make. Some may feel out of reach. You can only do the best you can—and you should feel good about your efforts. Whatever first step you take is one in the right direction. One step leads to two steps and then more. Small changes can make a big difference!

1 Susan G. Komen “How Hormones Affect Breast Cancer”

2 National Cancer Institute