Cancers of the breast, uterus and ovary account for 41 percent of cancer incidence among U.S. women. Breast cancer is running at epidemic levels, striking one in nine women, up from only one in 30 in 1960. Conventional estrogen-replacement therapy and estrogen-based oral contraceptives have been used extensively since 1960. Clearly, an alternative is needed to provide the anti-aging benefits of estrogen while protecting against its cancer-causing effects.
Does estrogen, in fact, cause cancer? Many doctors don't think so, while others think that combining estrogen with a synthetic progestin (a form of progesterone) neutralizes the cancer-causing risk of estrogen. Some studies show that estrogen does not cause cancer in the short-term, but in women taking estrogen and/or a synthetic progestin for more than 10 years, there appears to be a significantly elevated risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer.
In addition to an increased risk of breast cancer from using estrogen drugs, a report published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (May 1995) showed that long-term estrogen replacement therapy increased the risk of fatal ovarian cancer. This seven-year study included 240,073 pre- and post-menopausal women. After adjusting for other risk factors, women who used estrogen for six to eight years had a 40 percent higher risk of fatal ovarian cancer, while women who used estrogen for 11 or more years had a shocking 70 percent higher risk of fatal ovarian cancer.
The most popular estrogen drug in the United States is Premarin, which contains estrogens derived from the urine of pregnant mares. Other popular estrogen drugs are sold under the names Estrace and Estraderm. Provera is the name of a popular synthetic progestin that, when taken with Premarin, helps to prevent estrogen-induced uterine cancer, but does not prevent estrogen-induced breast or ovarian cancer.
Estrogen and progestin drugs both have well-documented side effects that cause many women to avoid using them. In addition to increased cancer risks, some of the other risks include weight gain, abnormal blood clot formation (thrombosis), increased risk of gallstones, fibroid tumors and headaches, and premenstrual-type symptoms (irritability, fluid retention). Despite these unpleasant and sometimes lethal side effects, many women use estrogen drugs because of their anti-aging properties, which include enhanced skin smoothness, firmness, and elasticity; better moistness of skin and mucus membranes; enhanced muscle tone; reduced genital atrophy and enhanced sex drive; and reduced menopausal miseries such as hot flashes and anxiety.
Estrogen replacement also reducesthe risk of heart disease and osteoporosis, lowers the risk of colon cancer, improves memory and neurologic function, protects against Alzheimer's disease, enhances immune function, and generally leaves one with a greater feeling of well-being. The question, of course, is how to achieve this Nirvana without running afoul of estrogen's potent side effects.