The significance of breast cancer when discussing women’s health cannot be overemphasized. The lifetime risk of breast cancer has tripled in the last 4 decades with breast cancer now ranking as the second leading cause of death for women in the US today. With 1.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer each year, prevention for this disease should be of paramount importance. When discussing prevention, I often hear discussions recommending a woman perform regular mammograms and monthly self-breast exams. However, these are really early detection methods as opposed to true preventative interventions.
Preventative measures for breast cancer include understanding the role that various forms of estrogen play in breast cancer and learning how an optimally functioning liver supports healthy estrogen balance.
The Role of Estrogen in Breast Cancer
Hormones are often implicated in the development of breast cancer. Specifically, it is believed that exposure to higher levels of estrogen for a longer period of time in a woman’s lifetime increases her breast cancer risk. Health proponents often question how and why something that the body naturally produces for health (estrogen) would create a risk for women such as breast cancer. The key may not be related to absolute exposure to estrogen itself, but rather exposure to unhealthy forms of estrogen that occur when the liver is not functioning optimally.
Healthy forms of estrogen are made daily in a woman’s body and are responsible for cell growth in the skin, bones and reproductive system. The body balances this cell growth by creating a pathway by which the active forms of estrogen are converted to inactive forms, signaling growth to stop. This conversion from active to inactive forms of estrogen occurs in the liver and is critical for health. If the liver is not functioning optimally, metabolism from active to inactive forms of estrogen does not occur, and unhealthy forms of estrogen may accumulate leading to uncontrolled growth of breast tissue and cancer risk.
In support of this theory is the fact that breast cancer rates are the lowest when a woman’s estrogen levels are the highest (in her 20’s and 30’s) and conversely seem to increase as estrogen levels drop (in her 40’ s and 50’s). During a woman’s 20’s and 30’s, her liver is healthy and functioning, not yet experiencing the decline that often occurs with aging and time. Suboptimal liver function is frequent in a woman’s 40’s and 50’s. This occurs from unhealthy eating, lifetime exposure to prescription medications that the liver must metabolize, as well as exposure to the ever-increasing number of toxins and chemicals in our environment that the liver is responsible for neutralizing. The overburdened liver in a woman’s midlife has unfortunately become the rule rather than the exception. Without focused support for healthy function of this vital organ, by her 40’s a woman’s liver has sustained years of overuse and suboptimal function has resulted.
Diagnostic Testing to Determine My Risk
New diagnostic testing allows a woman to get critical information about how well her body is metabolizing active forms of estrogen to inactive forms. This test is called the Estronex Profile and measures estrogen levels and the healthy vs unhealthy forms of estrogen to help assess whether a woman is at risk of developing estrogen sensitive cancers. The test is easy-to-collect from a first-morning urine requiring no blood draw and can be done from your home!
Based on the results of the Estronex testing, healthy estrogen metabolism can be established and interventions recommended to improve the estrogen balance in a woman’s body. This will most often include recommendations on how to improve liver function with nutrients such as cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and brussel sprouts) as well as support with nutritional supplements that support healthy liver function. Healthy liver function allows healthy forms of estrogen to predominate, reducing risks of breast cancer while allowing the benefits of healthy forms of estrogen to remain.
Make sure to follow next months newsletter for part two of Prevention for Breast Cancer- What You Can Do!