A study led by Xuehong Zhang, M.D., of the Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital Department of Medicine, reveals that blood hormone levels can predict breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women for up to 20 years. The findings were presented at the 11th Annual International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, sponsored by the American Association for Cancer Research.
This is a major step in screening procedures. Current recommendations by the American Cancer Society say women age 50 and over should have yearly mammograms. Every time a woman has a mammogram or other type of diagnostic radiation, it increases the chance she will get cancer.
Checking blood hormone levels is not a replacement for mammography. Using a simple blood test to check for hormone levels will allow physicians and patients to better utilize mammography.
Women who have little risk based on hormone levels may be better off having mammograms every two years instead of yearly, thus reducing the risks of diagnostic radiation and reducing out-of-pocket medical costs. The test will identify women with a high risk. These women can discuss with their physicians the steps necessary to monitor their bodies for signs of cancer.
After examining data from the Nurses Health Study, Zhang concluded that women who had the highest percentages of the hormones estradiol, testosterone and DHEAS had a 75 to 107 percent increase in postmenopausal breast cancers than women who had the lowest percentages of these hormones. Information gained from blood tests allows patients and doctors to make better health care choices.
Zhang's study indicates that elevated hormone levels of estradiol were at a greater risk of receptor-positive types of breast cancers. Elevated levels of all hormones indicates a greater risk of aggressive breast cancers -- defined as those with a high chance of recurrence or metastasizing.
The study did not include women who took hormone replacement therapy to relieve the symptoms of menopause. Additionally, correlations between elevated hormone levels and HER-2 and receptor-negative breast cancers require further study.
October is breast cancer awareness month. It is imperative that we find a cure for breast cancer. New diagnostic tests, like a simple blood test for hormone levels, give women better information to use for directing their health care.
Lynda Altman was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011. She writes a series for Yahoo! Shine called "My Battle With Breast Cancer."