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Estrogen and Breast Cancer Recurrence


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 “Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of…” The writer of this popular children’s rhyme forgot a key ingredient, estrogen, the hormone that turns sugar and spice into curvy hips and breasts. Estrogen is great until it runs out, as in “I’m menopausal, out of estrogen, and I’ve got a gun,” or when it turns on us and is linked to some breast and ovarian cancers.

Many breast cancers are fed by estrogen, so if you’ve been diagnosed with estrogen-positive (ER+) breast cancer, you may want to block all forms of estrogen. It’s interesting to note that women who have a recurrence of ER+ breast cancer have higher levels of estrogen in their blood, even if they’ve taken estrogen-blocking drugs. If you’ve been treated for ER+ early-stage breast cancer, here are some dos and don’ts to reduce your risk of recurrence:

Because exercise lowers blood estrogen, be physically active every day. Try and walk 30 minutes, six days a week.

Even if you’re past menopause, excess weight around a woman’s waist often turns into excess circulating estrogen in the body. Therefore be as lean as you can, within normal body weight, but not skinny. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment for breast cancer can often make it difficult to keep weight on, but do not use this time as permission to diet. Your body needs lots of healthy, colorful low fat foods to fight your cancer.

• Research has shown 30-50% of cancers are nutrition-related. Reduce consumption of high-fat meats, cheese, whole milk, fried foods, processed foods and fast foods. Trim fat and skin from meats.

Limit red meat and processed meats as well as chicken, eggs and dairy that may contain added hormones. Look for products that say “Hormone Free.”

• Cancer is an “obligate glucose metabolizer” which means its preferred food source is glucose. Since sugar is 50% glucose, it seems logical to minimize refined sugar found in cookies, candy, soda and desserts. Limit refined white foods like bread, pasta and rice, which easily convert to sugar.

Look for the word “whole” on the label when purchasing cereal, pasta, crackers, bread, tortillas and rice. Use brown rice instead of white.

Eat a diet primarily of fruits and vegetables, including berries, nuts, seeds and “whole” grains, which provide powerful and important phytochemicals that protect cells and stimulate the immune system.

A big portion of your immune system is in your gut. Keep it regular and running smoothly by drinking a daily probiotic. Whole grain breads also bring added fiber to the diet.

• We’ve all heard soy is a breast cancer inhibitor, but once you’re diagnosed with ER+ breast cancer, soy is thought to produce phytoestrogen effects, or they act like the hormone estrogen. While this is controversial, many oncologists suggest women with ER+ breast cancer avoid all soy products, soy supplements and soy isoflavones.

• Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol has been shown to increase estrogen metabolism and circulating estrogen levels in postmenopausal women. Because research on the amount of alcohol consumed per day is mixed, it is suggested alcohol should be limited to 3 to 4 drinks a week.

Avoid body and skin care products containing soy and all forms of parabens. Parabens are used as preservatives and produce possible estrogenic effects when absorbed by the blood stream. Unfortunately most of the shampoos, lotions, skin care creams and sexual lubricants on the market contain methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl, isopropyl and isobutylparabens. You might consider shopping for all natural products at Whole Foods, or online at BreastCancerSisterhood’s Retail Therapy.

• This is probably obvious, but avoid all forms of estrogen creams, patches and yes, bioidentical hormones. As the Today Show’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman told me, “Hormones are hormones are hormones.”

And finally, don’t become obsessed trying to follow, to the letter, all of these dos and don’ts. As with everything in life, do all things in moderation, including moderation.