Estrogen-dependent cancers, like breast cancer, ovarian cancer and endometrial (uterine) cancer, rely on estrogen to develop and grow. Treatments can stop your body from making estrogen or prevent hormone receptors from binding to estrogen. People who use estrogen hormone therapy for menopause symptoms may be more prone to estrogen-dependent cancers.
Estrogen is a hormone (natural chemical) that your body makes. Your blood carries estrogen to cells and tissues throughout your body.
Estrogen plays a vital role in sexual development and reproductive health. But estrogen is also a carcinogen, which means it has the potential to cause cancer.
In estrogen-dependent cancer, estrogen fuels cancer’s growth. You may also hear the terms:
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You may think of estrogen as a female hormone. The ovaries, part of the female reproductive system, produce most of a woman’s estrogen. But breast tissue and fat cells also make estrogen in all genders.
In women, estrogen and progesterone (another sex hormone) bring on puberty. Estrogen stimulates the growth of breasts and pubic hair. It also regulates menstruation (periods).
In men, estrogen promotes brain development, sexual function and libido.
Estrogen-dependent cancers include:
Estrogen plays a role in causing certain cancers.
Cells in your body have hormone receptors. The hormone receptors are a type of protein. Estrogen in your bloodstream can attach to the receptors. This hormone-receptor process is part of typical body function. In healthy cells, estrogen aids normal cell function and growth.
Today, experts know that several different factors play a role in turning healthy cells cancerous. When these factors are present, estrogen can act as a spark. The hormone causes cancer cells to multiply and spread.
Factors that slightly raise the chance of developing estrogen-dependent cancer include:
About 8 out of 10 breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive. These cancers need estrogen, progesterone or both hormones to grow. Excess exposure to estrogen raises cancer risk. Excess exposure can occur because of:
Longer lifetime exposure to estrogen may heighten your chances of ovarian cancer. Risk factors include:
Uterine, or endometrial, cancer forms in the lining of your uterus. Women are more likely to develop this cancer after menopause.
Your estrogen-related risk may go up with:
Your healthcare provider sends tissue samples from a tumor biopsy to a lab. The lab tests the cells in the samples for hormone receptors. A hormone receptor-positive (HR+) result means estrogen, progesterone or both hormones fuel cancer growth.
Your healthcare provider needs to know the hormone receptor status of a cancer. Certain treatments are more effective on hormone-positive cancers. These include:
But taking the pill can lower the risk of:
Cancers often develop for no known reason. Still, you can take steps to lower cancer risk.
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Most of the time, estrogen plays a positive role in healthy body functions. Estrogen-dependent cancers are an exception. In these cancers, estrogen fuels cancer growth. If you develop a cancer that could be hormone-sensitive, your healthcare provider will do tests to find out if it’s related to estrogen. This information helps your healthcare provider select the most effective treatment for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/10/2021.
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