For breast cancer survivors, the idea of taking estrogen pills is almost a taboo.

In fact, their doctors give them drugs to get rid of the hormone because it can fuel the growth of breast cancer.

So these women would probably be surprised by the approach taken by breast cancer physician Matthew Ellis, M.B., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis — he has demonstrated that estrogen therapy can help control metastatic breast cancer.

In a study presented at the 31st annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, he showed that for about a third of the 66 participants — women with metastatic breast cancer that had developed resistance to standard estrogen-lowering therapy — a daily dose of estrogen could stop the growth of their tumors or even cause them to shrink.

Ellis believes that estrogen therapy offers an appealing alternative to chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer that has become resistant to estrogen-lowering agents called aromatase inhibitors, such as exemestane, anastrazole and letrozole.

These drugs deplete the body of estrogen and are standard treatments for hormone-receptor positive breast cancers, which account for about 75 percent of breast cancer cases.

“By stabilizing or shrinking tumors in some women with metastatic breast cancer, estrogen therapy (hormonal therapy) can relieve pain and other symptoms of cancer and can potentially prolong lives,” says Ellis, an oncologist with the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

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