Despite increased awareness and education about breast cancer, over the last few decades, we have seen an increase in the number of cases. Because women have more estrogen than men, we see about 100 cases in females for every males case. This has led to a debate about whether estrogen may cause problems that lead to breast cancer.
There are a few things to consider with this argument. The first is that while breast can occur in younger women, it is usually seen in women 40 and up. Women’s estrogen levels actually decline as they get older (especially after menopause), but the risk of breast cancer increases with age.
Obviously, estrogen is not solely to blame for breast cancer. It is not wise to attribute any medical condition or disorder to one factor. Each person and each case is unique, and so it really isn’t helpful to oversimplify things and consider estrogen a “toxic” substance that causes cancer.
Estrogen is absolutely essential to females’ hormonal balance and development. It stimulates healthy tissue growth and promotes a positive stress response. In order to understand this issue, let’s explore what we know and don’t know about the causes of breast cancer.
Estrogen is Complex – Like Women!
Researchers are still studying how estrogen works in breast tissue. We know that the hormone is secreted and/or produced in the breast tissue, but how and why this occurs is still largely unknown. Doctors have found that the body has a way of regulating itself and hormones are often balanced naturally. There have been a number of studies about how hormones are metabolized in the body as we age, but the results have been varied and inconclusive.
Another problem with the estrogen argument is that it is used differently in different parts of the body. For example, estrogen made in the uterus is different than estrogen made in breast tissue. These are two very different organs (and thankfully our breasts do not shed their lining every month!) These differences are still being studied, but can lead to new ideas and theories about how cancer develops in our tissues.
To add to the uncertainty, there are three known forms of estrogen – E1, E2 and E3, also known as estrone, estradiol, and estriol. And unless your gynecologist or doctor is also a biochemist, their knowledge base can be somewhat limited.
An Ongoing Search
The truth is that the female body is full of mysteries and uncertainties. But with any luck, with the increasing number of women going into medicine (currently half of all medical students) and with advances in technology, more light will be shed on this issue in the coming years.
It’s important to always ask questions of your doctor or healthcare provider. It’s okay to say that you realize they might not have the answer, but keeping conversations and communication going is essential to arrive at the correct answers. As always, the best health insurance is preventative care – exercise, a healthy diet, good stress management techniques, and plenty of positive thinking. We are always here to answer your questions or just talk, so please get in touch!