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Breast cancer and your hormones: What's the link?

by , 09 April 2015

Most women think there's just one form of breast cancer. But in truth, there are many.

And at least two types of breast cancer (note these are responsible for three in every four breast cancer cases) are hormone-related.

Why is that important? Because knowing what's behind your disease is the best way to find a treatment that really works.

And today, we're filling you in on what you need to know.

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Knowing if your breast cancer is hormone-related gives your doctor the best chance at treating it

Like most of your body, your breasts are sensitive to hormones.
And when it comes to breast cancer, the hormones most likely to be blamed are none other than the female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone
This because “breast cancer cells have receptors on the outside of their walls that can catch specific hormones that circulate through your body,” reveals the Mayo Clinic. As scary as that sounds, it means these cells grow in response to the hormone they’re sensitive to, it’s also a good thing. Because it gives your doctor a better idea of how to treat your type of breast cancer and prevent it from coming back. 
That’s why it’s important to know whether the “hormone status” of your breast cancer is:  
  • ER positive. This type of breast cancer is sensitive to oestrogen. About 75% of all breast cancers are “ER positive” and can be successfully treated (in three out of five cases with) with hormone therapy.
  • PR positive. This type of breast cancer is sensitive to progesterone. It too responds to hormone therapy.
  • HR negative. This type of cancer doesn't have hormone receptors. And this means treatments aimed at blocking hormones in your body won’t work. These are the really scary forms of the disease as tumours tend to be more aggressive and faster growing. Thankfully, they’re only responsible for 20% of all breast cancer cases. 
But this information isn’t only helpful in treating breast cancer. It can help you avoid it too. 

Since most breast cancer cases are hormone positive, use these tips to lower your risk

As with most types of diseases, there are factors outside of your control that make you more likely to develop them. In the case of hormone receptive breast cancer, these include being white, starting menstruating early and going into menopause late. 
However, there are things you can do to lower your risk like:
Drinking in moderation: “Research shows that drinking alcohol increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer, particularly hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Alcohol also may increase breast cancer risk by damaging DNA in cells,” reveals breastcancer.org.
Not taking an oral contraceptive like the Pill: This because they contains hormones (usually oestrogen and progesterone) that block your ovaries from releasing eggs.
Choosing the right menopause treatment: If you take oestrogen and progestin to fight the symptoms of menopause, you’re risk is naturally higher too. (For ways to sail through menopause without tablets, go here.)

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