High estrogen levels in the body are believed to dramatically increase our risk of breast cancer. It is therefore worth understanding what estrogen is and how you can control your estrogen level at the same time as other breast cancer risk factors.
What is Estrogen?
- Estrogen is a natural steroid hormoneA chemical substance produced in the body that controls and regulates the activity of certain cells or organs.
- Found in the body of both women and men
- Most commonly associated with women, as the principle female sex hormone
- Women do tend to have much higher levels, particularly when they reach reproductive age
- In women, estrogen helps breasts develop, regulates the menstrual cycleA persistent and recurring way., thickens the lining of the uterus and prepares the breasts to produce milk
- In men, it helps sperm mature and may also play a role in libido
- It does this by travelling through the body in the bloodstream, sending out signals and acting upon other cells
Estrogen in the Breasts
Tissues in the breasts actually produce small amounts of estrogen (although it is mainly made in the ovariesThe female reproductive organs in which ova or eggs and hormones are produced., the corpus luteum follicles during menstruation, and the placenta). The breasts are called a ‘secondary source’ of estrogen (along with the liver, adrenal glandsAn organ in the human or animal body which releases particular chemical substances for use in the body or for discharge into the surroundings. and fat cells).
Estrogen and Breast Cancer
80% of all breast cancers grow according to estrogen supply. These are called hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers (or hormone-sensitive breast cancers). This is a very powerful factor to identify because these cancers can be treated effectively by restricting estrogen production in the body.
Why Might Estrogen Increase Breast Cancer?
There are a few different widely-held theories about how estrogen increases the risk of developing breast cancer, but nobody yet knows for sure.
One popular theory states that estrogen acts upon other cells and makes them multiply faster, speeding up and increasing the production of any present mutant cancerous cells.
Another focuses on how estrogen are broken down and removed from the body. This theory claims that people have different capacities for ridding the body of estrogen once it has finished its important regulatory and development functions. Some people easily break estrogen down into the bloodstream, but in others it mutates into cancerous byproducts. Unlike the uterus, which sheds its lining during menstruation each month, it is noted that the breasts are at risk of building up high levels of estrogen in women whose bodies cannot break the hormone down successfully.
Controlling Estrogen Level to Combat Breast Cancer
Regardless of exactly how estrogen causes increased breast cancer risk, it is worth keeping low estrogen levels in your body because this is shown to potentially reduce your breast cancer risk and is an excellent natural remedy for hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers that do arise.
- Maintain a normal body weight
- Get plenty of moderate exercise, on a regular basis
- Cut your alcohol consumption as much as possible
- Stop smoking
- Reduce saturated and trans fats
- Reduce usage or eliminate hormone replacent therapy (HRTTherapy that introduces synthetic progesterone and estrogen into the body after it has stopped making its own because of natural or induced menopause. HRT relieves the symptoms of menopause, but may also increase risks for developing breast cancer.) during and after menopauseThe end of a woman’s menstrual cycles, defined as 12 consecutive months of no menstrual periods. (Source)
- Choose to breastfeed, if possible
All of the above factors contribute to reducing estrogen levels in the body. Controlling them helps decrease your risk for breast cancer and gives you a healthier lifestyle in general.
Of course, there are also a number of factors relating to estrogen which cannot be controlled. Women who start their period early or begin the menopause late are believed at higher risk of developing breast cancer, for example. So are those who have children late or don’t have any at all. This is possibly because these women are exposed to more estrogen overall in their lifetimes. On the flipside, each time you get pregnant for a prolonged period, you effectively decrease the number of menstrual cycles and hormone fluctuations in your lifespan, reducing the breast cancer risk.
We cannot control factors such as these, but by understanding a little more about estrogen and how it relates to breast cancer, we can at least educate and empower ourselves—and others—to maintain the healthiest, low-estrogen-level lifestyle possible.
[Photo by iStockPhoto]