You may well be wondering what on Earth hormones have to do with breast cancer. And if you are, it’s a good point. Because, if you’re anything like us, there’s a very good chance you had no idea that hormones and breast cancer had such an intertwined relationship. But they very, very much do. Gang, here’s everything we know…
Hormones and Breast Cancer: What’s the story?
Well, the story is a complicated and, if we’re being honest, not very happy one for the most part. The hormones that are so important to all our sexual and reproductive health, are in fact, linked to cancer. Now, that’s a scary statement, so please let us reassure you that in no way does simply having these hormones cause cancer. Tumors are a complex affair, with a ton of contributing factors.
Hormones, though, can be one of those factors. Where breast cancer is concerned, hormones mean Estrogen and Progesterone for if you’re now or have ever been a woman, and Testosterone, for those who were or currently are men. And these reproductive hormones can impact certain types of cancer, mostly the ones that occur in your reproductive bits. And that includes some Testicular, Ovarian, Cervical, and Breast cancers.
How is that even possible?
That, gang, is the $64,000 question. Because it’s a query that doesn’t have a complete, or even immediately identifiable answer. Where breast cancer is concerned, though, Estrogen most definitely has a role to play. As, to a lesser extent, does Progesterone, and here’s why.
Estrogen exposure, as it’s called in the healthcare biz, or living for a long time and having periods as the rest of us call it, could well be partly responsible for certain breast cancers. But its involvement doesn’t end there. In addition to maybe being part of the cause, Estrogen also provides their energy source.
These particular breast cancers are classified as hormone-sensitive. Which is a nice way of saying that they use your own Estrogen to grow and, eventually spread. And some also include Progesterone in their diet, just because. Fun, right?
Now, not all breast cancers are hormone-sensitive. But for the 80% or so that are — yes, it’s very high — Estrogen exposure breaks down like this. Let’s say your periods started early, before you were 12, and your Menopause was on the late side, into your mid-50s, in this case your exposure is higher than someone whose periods started at 15 and Menopause started before 50. And therefore your risk of developing hormone-sensitive breast cancer is probably also slightly higher.
That risk increases a tiny bit more if you didn’t have the Estrogen break that comes with having kids. The slightly larger worry, though, is what happens after Menopause.
Menopause and Breast Cancer: Hormones go rogue
Yes, just when you thought Menopause couldn’t get any more annoyingly bizarre, this happens. Essentially, where during your reproductive years, Estrogen mainly comes from your ovaries. But once your ovaries have fully retired, AKA Postmenopause, it mostly comes from somewhere else entirely. And that place is fat cells.
And guess which part of your body has more of these Estrogen-related fat cells? You’re probably way ahead of us here, but yes, it’s your breasts. And the longer you live, the more you’ll produce, for reasons none of us can quite explain right now. That, in turn, increases your lifetime Estrogen exposure, even though you’re Postmenopausal.
As we’ve mentioned, the exact process that leads from Estrogen to breast cancer is a complicated and multi-layered one that medicine still doesn’t fully understand. And as most hormone-sensitive cancers occur in Postmenopausal women, it’s super-important that you’re checking your breasts regularly and reporting any changes to a friendly local healthcare type.
Estrogen-sensitive Breast Cancer: Hormone therapy
There is, though, some good news when it comes to dealing with hormone-sensitive cancers. Alongside treating the cancer part, including lumpectomies, chemo, and radiation therapy, there are also treatments for the hormone part. And they mainly involve hormone blockers.
In what is essentially the reverse of say, HRT, these drugs work by lowering the levels of Estrogen in your body, essentially blocking the production of the tumor’s energy source. And that simple act can have a massive, and positive, impact on that tumor, reducing growth and in conjunction with the above therapies, lowering the risk of it returning.
Now, as we’ve mentioned, HRT, here’s a quick aside about its relationship with breast cancer. Estrogen exposure can increase your risk, and HRT for the most part contains Estrogen. As such, your risk does slightly increase if you take it for more than a year. But will fall again once you stop taking it.
Estrogen and food
Regular Hormonas may already be aware of Phytoestrogens, or plant-derived Estrogen. Yes, plants also have it, the poor things. Now, they’re completely natural and in fact are found in things like Flax and sunflower seeds, wholegrains, and soy. And as we eat those plants and seeds, we ingest those Phytoestrogens, which for the most part is fine.
But some Phytoestrogens can actively interact with and influence your own hormones. Some can increase your Estrogen levels, while others can lower them. But the jury is very much still out on how big an impact Phytoestrogens can have on breast cancer risk.
It’s altogether possible that lifelong exposure could decrease your overall risk of developing a breast tumor. But it’s just as possible that high doses of Phytoestrogens are not a good idea if you’ve been diagnosed with hormone-sensitive breast cancer. If you’ve received that diagnosis, please consult your healthcare team about the whole Phytoestrogen thing, particularly highly processed soy.
Hormones and Breast Cancer: Forewarned is forearmed
Gang, we’ll be honest. This whole month has blown our collective minds. The idea that Estrogen can be so instrumental in breast cancer shook us a little. We’re always banging on about hormones, but we had no idea how important this relationship really is.
That’s pretty much why Hormona exists in the first place — we all need an education where hormones are concerned. After that, we need the right care and support. And that’s the second reason we exist. Hormones are so important to all our everyday lives and wellbeing and our app is there when you need to know that you’re not alone.
But the biggest takeaway here is, now that we know how important the relationship between hormones and breast cancer is, we have to be more alert to the signs that something’s up. That means regular breast checks if you’re in your 40s and above, and younger if you’re living with PCOS, Endometriosis, Fibroids, and even diabetes.
And if you notice any changes at all, please tell someone ASAFP. Seriously. We’re not just talking lumps, either. Changes in tissue density, the shape of your breasts or nipple, discharge, and unexplained pain could all be nothing. But it’s never a waste of time finding out for sure. Early detection saves lives. It’s as simple as that.
What we’re saying, gang, is, get to know your breasts! They’ll thank you for it!
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