Is There a Link Between Hormonal Imbalance and Breast Cancer?
There is a clear increase in a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer as they age, in particular once they get into their 40′s, 50′s and beyond. Why would there be such an increase in breast cancer rates in women at this age? What is the significance of this time in a woman’s life?
Hormone Imbalances and Estrogen Dominance
During this time, a woman is likely experiencing hormonal imbalance as she enters peri-menopause, and eventually menopause. The primary reasons for this imbalance are:
- declining levels of progesterone that occurs with aging, surgical removal of the ovaries or excessive stress (high cortisol equals low progesterone)
- higher levels of estrogen as the body struggles make an egg from aging ovaries
- accumulation of environmental hormone disruptors in the body from a lifetime of exposure to pollutants, plastics and pesticides (all contain xeno-estrogens)
- use of oral contraceptives (past or current)
- synthetic hormone replacement therapy
- an unhealthy digestive tract (where hormones are removed from the body)
These factors can contribute to an excess of estrogen in the body known as Estrogen Dominance. Since estrogen stimulates cell growth, a predominance of it, especially in the absence of adequate levels of progesterone, presents an increased risk of cancer, particularly in the breast.
Don’t get me wrong, estrogen is not a demon! It is all about balance. To better understand, let’s explore the relationship of estrogen to cell growth, particularly in the breast. Humans produce three types of estrogen: Estrone, Estradiol and Estriol. Each has a different effect on breast tissue:
- Estradiol: The most potent estrogen, equally stimulates and inhibits cell growth. In other words it is neutral.
- Estrone: The second most potent estrogen, stimulates cell growth.
- Estriol: The weakest estrogen, inhibits cell growth.
The key takeaway here is that having levels of Estrone that are too high in your body may result in more breast stimulation. While higher levels of Estriol in your body results in less breast cell stimulation, and therefore, breast protection.
But I’ve Heard That Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) Increases Your Risk of Breast Cancer?
You may have heard that hormone replacement therapy causes breast cancer. Well, if the patient is taking Premarin or other non bio-identical hormones, then that would actually be true. The ugly fact is that Premarin and other such synthetic hormones are composed of 48% Estrone (the potent stimulatory Estrogen). In a nutshell: you are taking more of the bad estrogen and decreasing your amount of the good estrogen. This equates to a prime set up for breast cancer.
On the other hand, the use of bio-identical estrogen, prescribed in ratios that are in favour of the cell growth inhibiting estrogens has not been shown to cause breast cancer and in fact may actually be breast protective.
What About Progesterone?
Progesterone is a key component in helping to prevent breast cancer. Progesterone is the dominant hormone in the second half of a woman’s cycle. It arrests cell growth and causes the shedding of the uterine lining. In the breast, it prevents fibrocystic changes and encourages apotosis (programmed cell death). Without enough progesterone, women may experience heavy periods, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, breast cysts and cancer!
Basically Estrogen = GROWTH and Progesterone = NO GROWTH. Without adequate amounts of Progesterone to balance the stimulatory effects of the estrogen go unchecked. This over stimulation is particularly bad for the breast tissue.
Progesterone vs. Progestin:
Progestins are a classification of drug that are similar to the natural progesterone you produce in your body. However, just as the name is similar but not identical, neither are their molecular structures. The Women’s Health Initiative revealed a 26% increase in breast cancer as a result of taking synthetic progestin. The Nurse’s Health Study found that synthetic progestins tripled breast cancer risk over that of estrogen only. The use of Provera, a synthetic progestin and component of Prempro, has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer by 800%.
Bio-Identical Progesterone has many Anti-Cancer Benefits:
- Progesterone decreases estrogen production
- Progesterone moves estrone to an inactive (sulfated) form
- Progesterone moves estrone to weakest/safest estriol
- Progesterone down-regulates estrogen receptors all together
- Progesterone activates the cancer protection gene, p53
Simply stated, bio-identical progesterone is breast protective.
Know The Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance:
- Unwanted weight gain/inability to lose weight
- Premenstrual weight gain/bloating
- Heavy/painful periods
- Irregular bleeding
- Tender and/or fibrocystic breasts
- Mood swings
- Low Libido
- Low thyroid symptoms
- Sleep disturbances
- High stress
- Belly fat
- Low immunities/susceptibility to illness
What Can I Do to Prevent / Treat Estrogen Dominance?
First, I recommend testing your hormones in saliva to determine the extent of estrogen dominance. If your progesterone/estradiol ratio is low, this indicates that progesterone levels are inadequate in relation to estrogen levels. This is a clear indication of estrogen dominance.
If this is the case, it would be a good idea to talk to a health care provider who specializes in the use ofbio-identical hormones about supplementing with bio-identical progesterone to balance estrogen levels. It is important that your physician take the time to discuss all your symptoms and take everything into consideration along with your lab results. This will give them the best picture of your unique situation and needs.
Address any problems you have with your digestive system. Imbalances of the gut flora can reduce your ability to clear excess estrogen from your body. Eating a whole foods diet, supplementing with a probiotic and getting adequate soluble fibre are all essential to establishing hormone balance.
Supplement with DIM (di-indolmethane). This is a natural chemical that comes from green cruciferous vegetables and has great studies showing breast cancer risk reduction. I generally recommend 300 mg daily.
Finally, consider having a thermogram. This is a form of breast imaging that does not require exposure to radiation. Instead, it measures the heat released from the breast, which indicates areas of increased cellular activity/growth. A thermogram can identify problems in breast tissue years before they can be seen by a mammogram or felt by your doctor. We hold a thermography clinic monthly at NOWhealth. To book an appointment, simply speak to our staff (250)542-4490. You can find out more about thermography here: Thermography Kelowna
Other Important Steps to Take Include:
- Reduce the use of pesticides, pollutants, and chemicals in your home
- Eat organic foods that are free of hormones and pesticides
- Maintain an ideal body weight (excess fat increases estrogen production)
- Exercise regularly
- Find ways to better manage your stress
For more information about managing estrogen dominance, hormone testing or bio-identical hormones, contact us.