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Bioidentical Hormones and Breast Cancer

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Last week the TODAY Show invited me to Skype in live and ask medical expert Dr. Nancy Snyderman a question about bioidentical hormones and estrogen positive breast cancer. Because bioidentical hormones are all natural and custom made by a compounding pharmacist, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all synthetic estrogen made by a pharmaceutical company, some women with estrogen positive breast cancer think bioidenticals are OK. I wanted to know if Dr. Snyderman agreed with their thinking.

According to Dr. Snyderman, “You can call them biodenticals, or you can call them the hormones you get from your pharmaceutical company, and hormones are still hormones are still hormones.” Dr. Snyderman went on to say that if she ever received a diagnosis of breast cancer, she would not take an estrogen that might in fact put her “at harm’s risk for fueling another breast cancer.” In other words, women who’ve been advised by their oncologists to avoid all forms of estrogen should pass on bioidenticals as well.

Most of us didn’t hear of bioidentical hormones until actress, Suzanne Somers, began singing their praises in her 2006 book. Ms. Somers claims bioidenticals are not drugs and that by taking them, a 60-year-old woman can achieve the hormone levels of a 20-year-old woman, along with all the benefits that accompany a full tank of estrogen. It’s easy to understand why Ms. Somers loves bioidentical hormones. Because of estrogen, our skin and muscle tone is more youthful; we have a stronger libido; our vagina self-lubricates, and in general, we have more energy. In many ways, getting older sucks! I would love it if all of those areas of my body were still firing on all cylinders, but let’s get real, girls. Mother nature didn’t intend for us to have estrogen coursing through our bodies for most of our life.

Many medical professionals disagree with Ms. Somers and her beliefs. For starters, drugs are not just synthetic medications made by pharmaceutical companies. Drugs naturally occur in nature as well. The coca leaf, for instance, is all natural but chew on a few leaves and you’ll find yourself revved up on cocaine, the naturally occurring alkaloid found in the coca leaf. Regardless of whether you chew the leaf, or receive the synthetic version for medical reasons, both are drugs. To suggest bioidenticals are more “natural” and therefore better, is reckless and alarming, especially for women who want to lessen the risk of their estrogen-fueled breast cancer returning. For those of you who haven’t had breast cancer, there are a few things about bioidenticals you might consider as well.

Breast cancer is a disease of aging. Girls are starting their periods earlier, possibly because of the parabens they’re ingesting and absorbing into their skin. Add to that the fact that many women are taking either estrogen replacement therapy or bioidentical hormones. As a result, there are women who’ve had estrogen in their bodies longer than any previous generation, and subsequently, may be at an even greater risk of developing breast cancer as they age. Besides, who wants to be having a period when you’re 80? Advocates of bioidentical hormones lead us to believe they’re the fountain of youth, like Shangri-La, the mystical setting for James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon, where people remain young and vibrant and this side of immortal forever.

As Dr. Nancy Snyderman said, she’s not a big believer that “these things are safe for the long-term,” so for women who want to take bioidentical hormones or any kind of estrogen replacement therapy for the perimenopausal symptoms of hot flashes, etc., do it for a short period of time. “But no longer than five years because then we know the incident of breast cancer really goes up.”

Here’s a personal side note about our sex, estrogen and youth-driven society: Hollywood and the media have always made women feel the need to look younger and sexier. Let’s face it. Sex sells! Some retailers are even sending little girls the message they need to look sexier. Tom Cruises’ 5-year-old daughter, Suri, has been wearing “kitten heels” since she was barely old enough to walk and now clothing manufacturers are selling bikinis with push-up bras to prepubescent girls!

We’re too old. We’re not old enough! Yes, estrogen makes the world go ‘round, but sexualizing little girls? And yes, I know Barbi began flaunting her sexuality to little girls in 1959. I was one of those little girls, and it took me years to figure out my feet would never permanently affix themselves in the tiptoe position. However, like pouring fuel on a fire, estrogen, man-made or synthetic, it is a fire that should carefully and thoughtfully be stoked.