How to Assess Your Risk for Breast Cancer Due to Estrogen Exposure

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Considering the growing epidemic of breast cancer, many women going through menopause are prone to ask what causes it. As with most cancers, a definitive answer still eludes healthcare professionals and cancer treatment experts. However, there are a few factors that may play a major role in your likelihood of developing breast cancer before, during, and after menopause.

How to Assess Your Risk for Breast Cancer Due to Estrogen Exposure-1

One of the major contributing factors to whether a woman will develop breast cancer is estrogen exposure. This female hormone does lots of good for the body; it oversees the development of the reproductive tissue, for example. However, estrogen is also believed to stimulate the rapid growth of breast tissue, which can lead to breast cancer. Because of this effect, women should evaluate how much estrogen they are exposed to and consult a healthcare professional if they have questions.

Follow this checklist to figure out which lifestyle triggers can increase or decrease your risk of breast cancer.

Assessment #1: How Long Have You Been Exposed to Natural Estrogen?

Women who have a longer lifetime exposure to estrogen are more likely to develop breast cancer. This includes females who began menstruating before their teens and women who go through menopause later in life.

Assessment #2: Are You Taking Birth Control Pills?

Because birth control pills contain estrogen, there has been a steady debate about whether or not they are a determining factor in who develops breast cancer. The variables seem to be at what point in life each woman began taking birth control, for what length of time and at what dosage.

According to the Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors at Cornell University, a recent study shows that elevated breast cancer risks in women who take birth control decreased after 10 years of not taking the pill. Cornell also cites another study that found that among breast cancer patients, women who took the pill developed a less aggressive form of the disease.

Assessment #3: Are You Exposed to Environmental Estrogens?

How to Assess Your Risk for Breast Cancer Due to Estrogen Exposure-2

Phytoestrogens are estrogens found in plants, such as soy, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Their interaction with breast cells is somewhat confusing to experts. Some research suggests that these estrogens are good for you; they take the place of naturally-produced estrogen and lessen the likelihood of rapid cell multiplication. However, according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, soy products can increase the risk of breast cancer in some women.

You can find chemically created variations of estrogen as well; they are used in beauty products, pesticides, and car exhaust. While phytoestrogens are able to be broken down by the body, these synthetic hormones are not. The body instead stores them as fat tissue, sometimes in the breast. Because these types of environmental estrogens cannot be decomposed by the body, chemical estrogens are a risk factor for breast cancer.

Assessment #4: Are You Taking Hormone Replacement Therapy?

Postmenopausal women who seek to combat the symptoms of low estrogen with hormone replacement therapy may actually be doing more harm to their bodies than good. Recent research suggests that this type of treatment may cause an increased risk of breast cancer.

Assessment #5: Have You Considered These Lifestyle Changes?

Leading a healthy lifestyle can be instrumental in lowering your breast cancer risk. Controlling your weight can be the first step since most postmenopausal women produce estrogen in their fat cells. Exercise, in addition to helping to lower weight, also decreases the amount of free estrogen in the blood stream. Drinking alcohol; however, is reported to increase these estrogens in the body.

Additional Information

Estrogen is actually a combination steroid comprised of three separate hormones: estriol, estrone, and estradiol. Click on the following link to find out more about estrogen roles and effects.

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