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What You Need to Know About the Relationship between Hormones and Breast Cancer

Posted Jun 19 2009 10:13pm

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women. 178,000 new cases and 40,000 deaths occur each year. Lung cancer, however, claims more women's lives each year.

More and more research points to hormones as playing a part.

From the moment we women start to menstruate to the point of menopause, women are exposed to estrogen and progesterone in their bodies.

“These hormones stimulate the breast duct and lobular cells, and it’s that repeated monthly stimulation, where the levels of the hormones go up and down, that can lead to mutations or alterations in the breast cells’ DNA,” says Julie Gralow, M.D., associate professor of medicine, department of oncology, at the University of Washington School of Medicine and associate program head of the Breast Cancer Program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “So if you start menstruating early (before age 12) or stop late (after 52), your risk for breast cancer goes up.”

I'm quoting from an article by Remedy magazine. They go on to say that family history also affects breast cancer risk, and that it's "a solid factor in about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers. Maintaining a healthy weight through menopause, exercising and limiting alcohol consumption may reduce a woman's risk, says Dr. Gralow." (Most of the below information is from this article.)

But cancer rates fell by 7 percent in 2003. The National Cancer Institute believes this may have been due to two factors: a drop in mammogram screening (and thus a drop in detection of early-stage cancer), and a decline in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) use. The drop in HRT occurred in 2001 after the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) found a potential relationship between HRT and slightly higher breast cancer rates.

My mother underwent a hysterectomy early in life after I was born. She was on hormone replacement therapy, specifically estrogen, for most of her life after 30. She claims she just didn't feel right if she didn't have her estrogen every day. I often wondered why my doctor didn't offer me the option of HRT after I hit menopause. I think I now know.

Obviously, if you're considering HRT, you and your doctor need to look at your risk for breast cancer. If you have a strong family history of cancer, you might want to consider other ways to manage menopause.
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