When VJ Sleight’s
returned last year, she wondered if the unusual recurrence – 23 years after her original diagnosis -- had anything to do with the controversial hCG diet that she had repeatedly followed.
The near-starvation diet, which I detailed in
, allows followers just 500 calories a day for six weeks. Hoping to quell hunger pangs, dieters also regularly take human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, a hormone taken from pregnant women’s urine.
Sleight’s doctors told her there wasn’t any research to support the link between hCG and breast cancer.
And some research has shown hCG can have a preventive effect.
, who has studied the effects of hCG for over 30 years, said she and other colleagues have found that in breast cancer patients with metastatic
, “hCG treatment can reduce tumor size.”
HCG also “prevents mammary cancer in rats and reduces tumor size in rats that already have developed mammary tumors,” said Russo, Chief of the Molecular Endocrinology Section of the Breast Cancer Research Laboratory at
. “Our studies indicate that hCG treatment does not stimulate the growth of preexisting tumors, whereas other hormonal stimuli, such as
) or even pregnancy can increase breast cancer risk.”
In addition, Russo's
that high levels of hCG during the first trimester of pregnancy are associated with reduced incidence of postmenopausal breast cancer.
Still, that’s not to say hCG is safe, even at the low doses used in the diet. “To my knowledge, there are no studies of hCG safety in women with functioning ovaries and breast cancer in remission,” said
an endocrinologist and preventive medicine expert at
In fact, it’s possible that hCG could stimulate breast cancer recurrence by stimulating estrogen/progesterone production in the ovaries, if a woman is still pre-menopausal,” said Kazlauskaite. “In women with functional ovaries, hCG stimulates ovary to produce estradiol, which is known to stimulate existing breast cancer growth, she said.
Since Russo’s laboratory work has shown that hCG reduces