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Estrogen's Role in Breast Cancer Can Fluctuate
Date:4/15/2011

an, who is scientific director of Georgetown University's Lombardi Cancer Center.

It's important to remember that estrogen-alone therapy is given only to women who have had a hysterectomy, as it can increase the risk of endometrial cancer. Women who still have a uterus are prescribed combined hormone replacement therapy (estrogen plus progestin), which does carry increased risks of breast cancer.

It's also important to note that breast cancer cells are not static.

Like bacteria, these cells "are somewhat of a moving target. They're changing and often reacting to their environment," said Dr. Jennifer Litton, an assistant professor of cancer medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "It's sort of a mini natural selection. If you expose it to one agent, it will mutate and find a way to resist that agent."

That's why many women become resistant to certain therapies and need alternatives that can outwit these constantly evolving cells.

The authors of the JAMA study concluded that women don't need to be concerned about an increased risk of breast cancer from short-term use of estrogen therapy.

Even so, family history and other risk factors need to be considered before starting a woman on hormone therapy.

But if you have a breast tumor, "estrogen should not be considered for treatment at all," said Jordan. "If they're postmenopausal, those women should either get tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor. That is the best treatment that you can give. It's absolutely rock solid."

On an experimental basis, doctors do have the authority to prescribe estrogen to treat women with metastatic breast cancer who have developed resistance to anti-hormone therapies, Jordan added.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on treatments for breast cancer.

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