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Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer and the Testosterone Connection

breast cancerHormone therapy for breast cancer, especially therapy that includes testosterone, is a controversial issue to say the least. A lot of conflicting evidence exists on both sides of the debate.

One study found an increased risk for breast cancer for women taking a drug related to testosterone (though not testosterone itself). Another study found that the risk actually decreased in women taking testosterone.

One recent study (2013) that is following about 1300 women has some preliminary results that are interesting, to say the least. They found, in the first 5 years of the 10-year study, that women undergoing testosterone therapy actually had a decreased incidence of breast cancer (you can read the whole article here).

While this is promising, remember that this study is not completed yet. And, remember that testosterone and it’s effects do not exist in a vacuum. It is naturally converted to estradiol in the body, so the estrogenic effects and risks need to be managed alongside testosterone levels. A lot of work still has to be done to find out if hormone therapy that includes testosterone is really helpful or not.

Part of the problem is that we don’t know if, in these studies, testosterone is being used in women who were genetically predisposed to contracting breast cancer, or if testosterone may actually be implicated in causing cancer.

A correlation exists, but correlation does not equal causation. Nobody really knows if testosterone therapy causes breast cancer in women as the scientific data is split. We do know the effects of estrogen and the fact that it increases breast cancer risk. It is possible that by raising testosterone levels, and thereby inadvertently raising estrogenic influence, that this may be the mechanism by which breast cancer risk is bolstered.

How Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer That Includes Testosterone Can Help Other Issues

Hormone therapy for breast cancer, especially therapy that includes testosterone, may not be appropriate as a direct treatment for breast cancer, especially given the stage of the research. However, it can certainly help with other issues.

In fact, women who suffer from certain symptoms of menopause, especially a decrease in libido, may benefit from hormone therapy that includes testosterone. Check out this article on the subject, which breaks down how testosterone therapy can work for women.

Part of the difficulty is that women have very little testosterone in their bodies in the first place. On the other hand, pre-menopausal women have a great deal of estrogen in their bodies, and this is generally what is thought of when women consider hormone therapy.

However, just like in men, women’s testosterone levels start to naturally decline after the 20’s (seems like everything starts declining around then…), but also like men, this decline seems to be accelerated now.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that women are going to have extraordinarily low levels of testosterone no matter what, it does mean that, as women age, testosterone deficiency can become a factor.

Menopause sometimes exacerbates the issue, and other factors can come into play as well. The best course of action is to speak to your healthcare provider if you feel that taking testosterone is right for you.

What Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer Usually Looks Like

Normally, hormone therapy for breast cancer requires you to take drugs that reduce your body’s production of various hormones (that’s a simplification, so read this to learn about the whole process).

Whether or not you go on this type of therapy depends on your physician. Only medical providers can prescribe these kinds of medications. It is important to have a thorough discussion of the benefits and risks before adding testosterone into the mix.

Some breast cancer therapies use drugs to shut down your body’s production of estrogen and other hormones that can make certain types of breast cancer grow faster. However, other types of breast cancer exist that are not affected by estrogen. Hormone suppression therapy doesn’t help with these types of breast cancer.

Because testosterone deficiency can cause symptoms in women too, it is sometimes prescribed to women, but it has to be carefully managed. Even more so than men, women need to be monitored closely while taking testosterone to avoid any potential side effects because of the dynamics of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) and it’s effects on estrogen.

If you want to learn more about how testosterone therapy may be beneficial for you, click here to contact us about treatment options, and we’ll discuss how the process works.

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Glenn Steponaitis, PA-C

Glenn Steponaitis, PA-C began his healthcare career nearly 20 years ago as a medical technician at Seton Medical Center while concurrently earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology at the University of Texas in Austin.   His interest in medicine lead him down the path of becoming a certified Physician Assistant and achieving a Bachelor of Science degree in this field from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.   Following completion of his schooling, Glenn started a 10 year career in the field of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, and in 2010 he began focusing on the medical management of those suffering from symptoms caused by low testosterone after witnessing hormone replacement doctors help Low T sufferers.

2 Comments

  1. BreastReconstruction on 10/14/2015 at 1:01 am

    Hi Glenn,

    Thank you for sharing this article. This information really helps me understand better about testosterone therapy, it’s more likely that even in this therapy is needed to be monitored to avoid any complications in the long run.

    -Nile

  2. Gaius Gracchus on 09/05/2016 at 8:13 pm

    Well, to be clear on the subject of testosterone reducing breast cancer incidence, the studies by Dr Rebecca Glaser are using an aromatase inhibitor for breast cancer survivors. The regular testosterone implants are used for women with no history of cancer.
    In BOTH groups, the incidence of breast cancer was reduced.

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