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Artificial hormones

Birth control pills

Your body makes hormones that tell your cells what to do. These natural hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the blood and control how your tissues and organs work.

Sometimes you can get artificial hormones from outside sources, such as drugs or chemicals in the environment. Hormones from outside sources can raise or lower your hormone levels. There is concern that these changes in hormone levels can increase the risk of cancer.

Chemicals and hormones

Recent studies have focused on a group of chemicals called endocrine disruptors. These chemicals can interfere or disrupt the function of the endocrine system. They can disrupt the endocrine system in a few ways, such as by:

  • mimicking the action of certain naturally-occurring hormones, such as estrogen, in the body
  • blocking the action of certain hormones
  • interfering with the production of hormones or hormone receptors
  • altering the chemical messages sent by hormones

The concern is that endocrine disruptors could change the action of hormones in our bodies and lead to health problems, such as cancer. The evidence linking most endocrine disruptors to cancer so far has generally been poor or not consistent.

Although the evidence linking endocrine disruptors to cancer is generally poor or inconsistent, some flame retardants (PBDEs) and phthalates may increase cancer risk. Research is still ongoing into these and other endocrine disruptors.

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