Monday, 18 May 2020

Why are hormonal cancers on the rise?

Inherited or not? Artist Tamsin van Essen 'Medical Heirlooms' incl cancer
My hormones are trying to balance. The word ‘hormone’ comes from the Greek meaning 'to stir up’ - I can certainly feel the battle going on inside me as my own hormones seem to be tackling the last of the injection I had ahead of my radiotherapy. In this blog I want to look more generally at hormones then in the next blog look at what that might mean for me and trying to balance them.

Hormones are crucial to so many aspects of our lives; growth, fertility, metabolism, fertility and more. Hormone-related cancer are now among the most common cancers with prostate topping the league. And numbers are increasing all the time. Earlier this year it was announced that in 2018 there were nearly 50,000 registered cases of prostate cancer; that is around 8,000 more than in 2017. Public Health England says it is because more men are getting tested. 

I’m sure Stephen Fry, Rod Stewart and Bill Turnbull sharing their prostate cancer diagnosis have all helped to encourage men to be tested. The reason for the increase is certainly partly more tests - and this is linked to our aging population, poor early diagnosis rates and an increased incidence of the cancer returning unexpectedly. But I don't accept that is the whole picture.

Chris Woollams, founder of CANCERactive comments in response to these figures, “The NHS claimed that ‘survival rates were at a record high of 86%’ but didn’t explain what that meant at all. In fact given the record deaths in 2017 most probably came from people diagnosed in 2014 or before, it doesn’t take GCSE maths to see that at least one in four men are certainly not surviving...More treatments readily available in the USA – such as ablation, HIFU and proton beam therapy - need to become widely available too. It is quite absurd that NICE talks of surgery and radiotherapy as the only treatment options.(i)”

Why more hormonal cancers? 

Cancer Research UK say that the increases in cancer are not due to ‘deodorants', 'mobile phones’ or' plastic bottles' - they even produced a film to say that (ii). They argue it is largely our ageing population going together with “DNA Errors” that mean more cancers. Indeed the medical world today say cancer is caused by genetic mutations or just bad luck. As one person commented on the Cancer Research UK video: "If it's all to do with "AGE", then why the hell should I be smoke free, keep a healthy weight, drink less alcohol, be "sunsmart", be active and eat fruit and vegetables?"

I don’t think Cancer Research are doing themselves any favours with a video like that! It also seems extraordinary to me that they can so readily dismiss a host of factors that have surely had more than a passing impact on our health! For example one of the key offenders must be the thousands of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been released into the environment in the last 80 years. Extraordinarily less than 5% of those have been safety-tested. And why have women with the BRCA mutation (that can increase the risk of cancer) seen a tripling from 24% to 67% of them getting cancer by age 50 since 1940? Could this have anything to do with teh fact that that was when pesticides were introduced? 
Prostate cancer has risen between 1973 and 1991 by 126%. One doctor has claimed my own cancer was caused by aa pesticide - see my blog on that here (iii).

Another factor is that cancer rates vary in different countries. Take just one example, colon cancer; it is over 60 times lower in native Africans than in African Americans. They don’t have a genetic advantage but a dietary one.                                                                                                                              
Cancer is not a disease of the ageing population. We have seen massive rises amongst young people. Between the early 80s and 90s cancers in US children under ten rose by 37%. In the last sixteen years cancers affecting children in the US have risen by 40% with rates of secondary cancers also surging. Indeed in research paper after paper the evidence is that only 5-10% of cancers are caused by damage to DNA.  Poor diet, unhealthy lifestyles and more are key factors but that is for another blog.

Metabolic approach

Diet plays a crucial role; Russ cartoon
Nasha Winters and Jess Higgins Kelley in their book, “The Metabolic Approach to Cancer” (2017), take a different approach to cancer that is growing in popularity and also starting to infiltrate many oncologists working within our health service. Cancer is not a simple disease but a collection of different diseases and each one of us is different, not only in our bodies in terms of immune systems, microbiomes and more, but also our toxin exposure and lifestyles. They write: “Cancer is the most elusive, cunning, adaptable, intelligent, and innovative disease in history, and has been outsmarting us for a long time."

The Metabolic approach to cancer suggests that damage to a cell’s microchondria is what causes a cell to behave cancerously. So then it is about looking at what causes that failure. Well a number of things have been shown to cause cancer; certain viruses, certain bacteria like Helicobacter pylori, toxins like nicotine, radiation like Chernobyl, or traumas/chronic stress.

In the book Nasha and Jess look at different aspects of our bodies and mind to return us to balance. Food plays a key role yet, like many, when I was diagnosed my oncologist dismissed diet as not important. Yet to me understanding cancer as a metabolic disorder is what makes sense - and through epigenetics (see my blog on that here) we have the ability to heal. In their book they outline ten key areas that need attention including blood sugar balance, immune system maximisation, recalibrating stress levels and enhancing mental and emotional wellbeing. I really like the way they look at these issues although I have some challenges around some of the work like the ketogenic diet - but again that is for another blog. 


Much of our food and many of the products we use contain synthetic hormones called xenoestrogens and can be stronger than our naturally occurring oestrogen. It was in the late 1940s sex hormones were approved for livestock production and in 1960 the birth control pill was approved and as noted above we have seen an explosion in their use. Some scientists estimate we are exposed to 200 hormone-disrupting chemicals every day. Amazingly one third of chemicals on the market breach EU safety rules (iv).

In a 2015 study with 174 scientists from 28 countries, 50 chemicals were identified that were all considered harmless at low doses but were found to be carcinogenic when combined with other ‘harmless’ chemicals. The list included triclosan in antibacterial soap, phthalates in plastics, titanium dioxide in sunscreen plus acrylamide in French fries, coffee and roasted nuts. The message was clear that chemicals not considered harmful by themselves could combine and accumulate in our bodies to trigger cancer. Chris Wark, author of “Chris Beat Cancer” quotes that study and writes: “We are swimming in a toxic soup with a risk that is impossible to calculate." It is hard to disagree.

We have also seen a tsunami of hormone-related conditions like auto-immune diseases, acne, endometriosis, infertility, one in five women having thyroid problems, over half of women having menopausal symptoms, breast development in girls as young as seven and even younger and depression. Nasha and Jess argue that both breast and prostate cancers are not simply ‘bad luck’ but rather “a direct result of the hormones in our food, especially meat and dairy products, daily exposures to synthetic hormone-disrupting chemicals found in products from water bottles to shampoo, and the use of synthetic and bio identical hormones in birth control and hormone replacement therapies.”

Crucial is oestrogen - there are over twenty different types of oestrogen and three groups of oestrogen; human oestrogen, chemical oestrogen and plant oestrogen. All cancer cells will grow in response to this hormone. However balancing hormones is not straight forward - something I discovered a while back - and indeed in most blog posts on hormones I cry out that I have not got a grip on this issue! I will make an attempt to get more of a grip and look at what I can do to help balance my hormones in the next blog. Update 25/04/20: Blog now live here.

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