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Where do hormones come from?

image of a teen contemplating birth control pills

Hormones in your body control specific body functions, such as metabolism, growth and reproduction. If the levels of certain hormones are too high, they can make our cells grow and divide more quickly than usual. This can increase the risk of cancer.

Natural hormones are produced by glands. These hormones made naturally by the body are called endogenous hormones.

Some natural hormones can increase your chances of developing certain types of cancer. For example, the longer a woman is exposed to estrogen – even when it’s naturally occurring – the greater her risk of breast cancer. A woman who starts menstruating at a younger-than-usual age, reaches menopause later than usual or never gets pregnant has a higher risk of breast cancer because these factors increase her lifetime exposure to estrogen.

For men, long-term exposure of prostate cells to testosterone plays a role in prostate cancer development. The risk of prostate cancer increases as men grow older and their prostate cells are exposed to testosterone for a longer period.

Hormones can also be made in a lab. These synthetic hormones can be found in birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy and chemicals in the environment. These hormones can also raise or lower your hormone levels. It’s possible that these changes in hormone levels can increase the risk of cancer.


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