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Letters to the Editor Issue 35

by Letters(more info)

listed in letters to the editor, originally published in issue 35 - December 1998

Natural Progesterone: Safe for women with hormonal cancers?

I am very concerned that progesterone derived from wild yam has been mentioned in your magazine as an alternative to conventional HRT. Wilst it may be safe for some women, it is contra indicated for those who have had hormonal cancers like myself.

It is necessary to avoid further hormonal imbalance. One of my doctors was concerned about this product as two of her patients including myself developed breast pains after using it. A third patient went on to develop breast cancer so that it is not necessarily protective against cancer. It may actually be fuelling it.

I stopped using it after hearing that it is not recommended by R Elkins in a book on DHEA available from the London Nutri Centre.

Janette Stroud

Dr Shirley Bond replies...

You were well advised by the doctor at the Bristol Cancer Help Centre to use progesterone to protect you against breast cancer.

Progesterone is made from Mexican Wild Yam and has been used in various dosages for over twenty five years and there have been no reports at all during that time to suggest that progesterone might be a factor in the causation of breast or any other cancers. The evidence over the years has been that it is protective against breast cancer.

There have been many reports in the scientific literature worldwide to support this protective role of progesterone and I will quote just some of them:

1981. American Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins published evidence that breast cancer was 5.4 times more common in women with low levels of progesterone. Dr Zava has measured the mean levels of oestrogen and progesterone in breast tissue removed at the time of surgery for breast cancer. All showed a lack of progesterone.

1995. Fertility and Sterility Dr Chang et al. Prior to breast surgery for conditions other than cancer, a group of women were divided into four groups. One group was given oestrogen cream, one progesterone cream, one a combined oestrogen progesterone cream and one a placebo. At biopsy it was found that the levels of oestrogen in breast cells had increased by 100% in those given oestrogen cream. The levels of progesterone in the breast cells had increased by 100% in those given progesterone cream. The levels of oestrogen and progesterone had increased by 50% in those given the combination cream. There was no change in those given the placebo. In the biopsies cell proliferation, which is the beginning of cancer, had increased by 230% in those given oestrogen and reduced by 400% in those given progesterone. This clearly shows that progesterone reduces proliferation of breast cells.

1996. Journal of Woman's Health, William Hrushesky published a review of over ten different articles all of which showed that a woman's survival rate is increased dramatically (from 30 to 60%) if the surgery is performed when the progesterone levels are high.

1996. British Journal of Cancer. Dr P Mohr et al showed that if women had progesterone levels above 4ng/ml at the time of surgery, 65% were still alive after eighteen years compared to on 35% of those whose levels were below 4ng/ml.

1998. Fertility and Sterility. Jean Michel Foidart et al reported a further study which again showed that giving progesterone cream to women prior to surgery reduced the amount of cell proliferation by significant amounts.

There are many reports from practising doctors who have given progesterone to patients with breast cancer who had menopausal symptoms and who could obviously not take traditional HRT. These doctors all report that either very few or none of these women have had recurrences of or died from their breast cancer. This circumstantial evidence supports the fact that progesterone protects against breast cancer.

Another factor in any cancer, not just breast cancer, is linked to the life and death of individual cells. Our cells have a set life at the end of which they should die, be removed and replaced by new cells. If this doesn't happen and old cells remain, they readily become cancerous. There is a gene which is stimulated by oestrogen which encourages the long life of these cells and there is another gene which is stimulated by progesterone which ensures that these cells die when they should. This indicates yet another way in which progesterone can protect us against cancer.

When cancer cells spread in the body they can be destroyed by the immune system. For this to happen the immune system must be very healthy. Oestrogen when it is unopposed by progesterone can weaken our immune systems. Another way in which progesterone can protect us.

When cancer cells spread in the blood stream they must pass out of the blood vessels into the tissues if they are to cause metastasis. Progesterone decreases the permeability of blood vessels and thus reduces the risk of these malignant cells entering the tissues.

Regarding the effect of increased breast tenderness soon after starting to use progesterone cream. This does occur and is nothing to be anxious about. It appears to relate to the changes in the breast cells which occur as the hormone balances change. If the progesterone is persisted with, the tenderness will disappear. There is no associated stimulation of breast tissue associated with this tenderness. Progesterone cannot cause stimulation of breast tissues. The progesterone receptors cannot act in that way; they can only act to reduce proliferation.

Dr Shirley Bond

* Dr Shirley Bond is a GP working in London who specialises in the treatment of women's menopausal and other problems.

See also reply from Dr John Lee

Dr Lee and Dr Bond were key speakers at the Positive Health Natural Approaches to the Menopause Symposium held in London in April 1998. The full transcript will shortly be available on this site.

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