Different Types of Breast Cancer
As more research is done into the causes of breast cancer, scientists are discovering that breast cancer can be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors. One of these factors is hormonal. Certain types of breast cancer cells respond to estrogen by reproducing and growing into breast cancer tumors.
Breast cancer that is effected by estrogen is called hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Not all cases of breast cancer are effected by estrogen, however for the early stage cases that are, hormone treatment may help to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence after surgery and treatment.
Is Hormone Treatment for Breast Cancer the Same as HRT?
HRT is the acronym for hormone replacement therapy, and it is a very different kind of treatment. HRT is used by women to decrease the uncomfortable side effects of menopause, such as hot flashes. HRT usually includes estrogen as one of the main and most helpful components of the treatment for menopausal side effects.
Hormone treatment for breast cancer is exactly the opposite. Women who have HRT are taking in increased levels of estrogen. Women with breast cancer who have hormone treatment are taking medications that block the production of estrogen.
Where Does Estrogen Come From?
Estrogen in a woman’s body is produced primarily in the ovaries. Estrogen is the primary reproductive hormone and it is necessary for the reproductive cycle that happens every month. Women begin producing estrogen at higher levels as soon as they begin to ovulate and have their periods, and during menopause estrogen production slows and stops.
Some doctors will recommend surgery as part of hormone treatment for breast cancer. The surgery will involve disconnecting the ovaries from the uterus, or cutting of the fallopian tubes. This can reduce estrogen production and the continued movement of estrogen throughout the body. Some women have their ovaries removed entirely.
What are the Environmental Risks of Developing Breast Cancer?
While breast cancer may be impossible to avoid, there are some things that increase the likelihood of developing hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Because high levels of the hormone estrogen are what seem to cause the cancer to grow, avoiding estrogen is a good idea.
Of course, the body is producing estrogen for necessary functions and you may not want to stop those functions. There are also certain risk factors which increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer that cannot be avoided. Women who start their period early and start menopause late are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Throughout your life you may have opportunities to avoid increasing the amount of estrogen in the body. Some things that may increase overall estrogen levels include drinking bottled water and sodas from plastic bottles. The plastic used in single use bottles has high levels of estrogenic chemicals which the body then uses as if it was normal estrogen. Another potential way that the body gets an increased level of estrogen is through eating large quantities of soy products. However, in East Asian countries women eat incredible amounts of soy products, much more than western women, and they have lower occurrences of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. And of course, if you take hormone replacement therapy you are increasing the amount of estrogen in the body. Cases of breast cancer in transgendered women, women who were men but had surgical and hormonal interventions to become women, are not infrequent. It is thought that this may have to do with the high levels of estrogen that is used.
What is Hormone Therapy Like?
Women who undergo hormone therapy for breast cancer usually take pills orally or go to their doctor for regular intravenous treatments. Most hormone treatments for breast cancer are done during early stage breast cancer treatment. Women with breast cancer that is malignant but has not yet spread to other parts of the body usually undergo a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation to remove and destroy cancer cells. If the cancer is hormone-receptor-positive, doctors may prescribe hormone treatments as well.
Hormone therapy for breast cancer can produce an array of uncomfortable side effects. Anything from nausea to bone and joint pain to hair thinning and loss of bone density. However, there are a wide variety of hormone therapy medications to choose from and some have higher risk of certain side effects than others. You should talk to your doctor extensively about the risks of hormone treatments, and figure out which medication would be best for you. If your doctor has experience with breast cancer patients who have had hormone therapy, it is likely he will have a lot of information for you about the positive and negative aspects of each medication.
The other use of hormone therapy for hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer is for patients whose cancer has metastasized, or spread to other parts of the body. If tumors begin to grow in other organs or in the brain, the success of surgery and chemotherapy is less likely. However, treatment often continues, as reducing the size of tumors and slowing down their growth can extend life. For women with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, the use of hormone treatment for metastasized cancer can slow down the growth of cancer cells and tumors.
Is Hormone Therapy Right For Me?
The only person who can answer that question is you. While there are a number of dangerous side effects, most of the side effects are minor and pose much less of a long term threat than allowing cancer cells and tumors to continue to grow. You may want to consider removal of the ovaries as another way to decrease estrogen in the body, but usually surgery seems more invasive, dangerous, and traumatic than regular injections of hormones. Talk to your doctor about your options.