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Testosterone raises chance of breast cancer

Women who use steroids are increasing their risk of developing breast cancer. This is the conclusion we come to after reading the results of a study that American cancer researchers published this month in Breast Cancer Research.

No, the researchers didn't look at steroids users. They studied hormone levels in the blood of women who used no hormones whatsoever. The researchers got the women out of a database containing details of women who had been monitored from 1977 to 2004. Of the women, 98 had developed breast cancer and 168 had not.

One in eight Western women develop breast cancer. Breast cancer is a hormone-related form of cancer. In modern societies, hormone-related cancers are on the increase. The official interpretation of this is that doctors are getting better in detecting these kinds of cancer, and people are living longer, so are more likely to develop them too. However, the statistics show an increase that looks as though there’s more to the story, and that nutrition and environmental factors are also involved.

The researchers started by looking at estradiol. Estradiol stimulates growth of breast tissue and can cause cancer. But women who have high natural levels of estradiol do not have a greater chance of developing breast cancer.

Testosterone raises chance of breast cancer

When it comes to testosterone it's a different story. Women who have a naturally high testosterone level are four times as likely to develop breast cancer than women with a low testosterone level.

Testosterone raises chance of breast cancer

The researchers cite a theory they found in the literature which explains this. "One mechanism by which testosterone is hypothesized to increase breast cancer risk is via conversion to estradiol", they write. "Breast tissue estradiol is derived from direct uptake from the circulation and by local synthesis from precursors, such as testosterone. Aromatase, which catalyzes the conversion of androgens to estrogens, is expressed by adipose tissue fibroblasts in normal breast and contributes to local estrogen production. Breast tumors also can produce high levels of aromatase and tumor derived factors."

If the theory is true, then steroids that convert into estradiol or are capable of interacting with the estradiol receptor are the most risky ones for women. Testosterone, methyl testosterone, boldenone and methandienone all convert relatively easily into estradiol. Nandrolone and oxymetholone are themselves slightly estrogenic.

Breast Cancer Res. 2010 Nov 18; 12(6): R98.

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