Estrogen and Cancer: Understanding the Link Between Hormones and Risk
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death globally, and researchers continually search for correlations between various factors and the risk of certain cancers. Estrogen, a hormone that can be found in both men and women and sometimes referred to as the “female hormone,” possesses significant impacts on the risk of breast cancer and other forms of cancer. Understanding the relationship between hormones and cancer offers greater insight into the potential risk factors of certain cancers, as well as potential preventative measures to reduce an individual’s cancer risk.
What is Estrogen?
Estrogen is a reproductive hormone that, in women, is produced mainly by the ovaries, and in smaller amounts by the adrenal glands, fat cells, and other organs. Men produce small amounts of estrogen in the testicles and adrenal glands. In all humans, estrogen helps regulate physiology and sexual development throughout life.
How Does Estrogen Impact Cancer Risk?
Research has explored the link between higher levels of naturally-produced estrogen and a woman’s risk of breast cancer, as well as other estrogen-sensitive cancers like uterine or ovarian cancer. Hormones like estrogen can potentially promote cancer growth and progression, as these hormones often contain chemical components which can interfere with DNA replication.
Cancer Risk in Men and Women
Each gender’s risk is affected by different levels of estrogen. In men, higher levels have been linked to higher risk for prostrate cancer. In women, however, the impact can be greater, as the risk of breast and ovarian cancer increases with higher levels of estrogen. As estrogen increases, it binds with androgen receptors found in cancer cells. This can increase cell proliferation, meaning that the cancer cells divide and grow more quickly, ultimately leading to an increased cancer risk.
Preventative Measures for Reducing Cancer Risk
Women who have a higher risk of estrogen-sensitive cancers due to naturally higher levels can speak with their doctor to discuss possible preventative measures. These can include lifestyle changes, medications, and surgical procedures.
Lifestyle modifications can keep natural estrogen levels low, and potentially attenuate the risk of certain cancers. Limiting alcohol use, maintaining a healthy body weight, and participating in regular exercise can all help keep estrogen levels low.
In some cases, medications like Tamoxifen can be used to block the effects of estrogen and reduce the risk of hormone-sensitive breast cancer.
For women in high-risk groups, a surgical procedure known as an oophorectomy can be used to remove the ovaries, where estrogen is produced in the body. This procedure can lower estrogen levels drastically and drastically reduce the risk of certain hormone-related cancers.
When it comes to the relationship between hormones and cancer risk, it is important to understand the connection between hormone levels and the risks of estrogen-sensitive cancers. With the proper knowledge, women at higher risk can make necessary lifestyle modification and discuss potential medical procedures to reduce the risk of these cancers. Estrogen, hormones, cancer, hormone levels, lifestyle modifications, medications, and oophorectomy are all topics to discuss with your doctor.