How breast cancer is linked to our hormones

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women worldwide; one of the risk factors is our exposure to oestrogen. During Breast Cancer Awareness month, Moody looks into the science.

Breast cancer is a disease that’s hard not to be moved by: most of us have been touched personally by someone we love who has suffered from the disease – a mum, auntie, sister, granny, friend. Shockingly, it’s still the most common cancer affecting women worldwide, one in eight of us is predicted to get it in our lifetime.

Reassuringly, with better awareness and earlier screening – see the checklist below on how to check your own breasts – survival rates are at their highest ever. And researchers have said that with new treatments being discovered, that will only increase.

Interestingly, there’s a strong link between hormonal imbalance and breast cancer, according to an ongoing study by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, which looked at women’s hormones taken from blood samples. They found that the hormone with the biggest impact was oestrogen.


READ MORE: The chemicals to avoid for happy hormone health


The chances of us developing the disease are in part due to how much oestrogen our bodies are exposed to, and there are numerous factors involved, lots of them outside of our control. For example, a woman who started her periods at a young age and went through the menopause later in life will have been exposed to oestrogen over a longer period of time: the risk of getting the disease increases by around 3% for each year older at menopause, according to a study in The Lancet, so it’s really important to check your breasts regularly and make sure you attend routine screenings.

While many of these factors, such as when your first period came and when you’re likely to experience the menopause, are not always within our control, cancer charities say that tackling obesity is the best way to try to prevent cancers in general. Because obesity is associated with higher levels of circulating sex hormones, it may partly explain the link between increased body fat and breast cancer risk, according to Cancer Research UK. Dieticians from the charity recommend a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fibre, fruit and vegetables and less red and processed meat and salt to boost our health.

“While there are many factors that can contribute to breast cancer risk, the good news is that there are practical things that we can do to support hormone balance,” Moody’s nutritionist Lola Ross says. “These include making positive changes to our diet, increasing exercise and adopting healthier lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, reducing stress and avoiding endocrine disrupting chemicals and xenoestrogens found in daily products.”


For more details about breast cancer charities, see the MOODY DIRECTORY


How to check your breasts: A guide by Breast Cancer Care

Check all parts of your breasts, your armpits and up to your collarbone for changes, such as:

A change in size or shape

A lump or area that feels thicker than the rest of the breast

A change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like the skin of an orange)

Redness or a rash on the skin and/or around the nipple

Your nipple has become pulled in or looks different, for example a change in its position or shape

Liquid that comes from the nipple without squeezing

Pain in your breast or your armpit that’s there all or almost all of the time

A swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone