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What is an Aromatase?

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  • Written By: L. Whitaker
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2016
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An aromatase is a type of human enzyme, which is a protein that speeds up chemical processes. This enzyme converts male androgen hormones into female estrogen within the body of individuals of either gender. Aromatase inhibitors are typically used to slow the expansion of breast cancer cells in women. Aromatase deficiency is known to impede normal development of certain sex characteristics at birth or at puberty. Aromatase excess syndrome in males generally results in gynecomastia, or breast enlargement.

The leading cause of death related to cancer is metastasis, which refers to the spread of cancerous cells beyond the point of the originating tumor. Estrogen is known to act as a catalyst for the growth of breast cancer cells. Aromatase inhibitors are sometimes used in conjunction with other breast cancer therapies to reduce or slow the growth of cancerous tumors. Inhibitors that are available by prescription include anastrozole, exemestane, and letrozole. Some naturally occurring bioflavonoids, such as resveratrol and quercetin, are being studied in relation to their potential as alternative aromatase inhibitors.

Treatment for breast cancer with inhibitor drugs is typically attempted only in post-menopausal women because aromatase inhibitors cannot stop the ovaries from producing estrogen. Aromatase production can occur in many parts of the female body outside of the sex organs. These can include some muscle tissues, bone marrow, bone, and liver.

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A hormonal imbalance can be problematic regardless of whether there is too much or not enough of certain enzymes present in the body. Aromatose deficiency is a rare condition that develops in utero and typically becomes evident only at puberty. Girls affected by this deficiency might fail to develop normal female sex characteristics. Boys tend to have normal or near-normal sex characteristics but will be abnormally tall and will be at risk for osteoporosis.

An excess of estrogen in men or boys can lead to gynecomastia, or abnormal breast enlargement. This condition is common in pubescent boys and normally ceases without treatment within a few months. It sometimes develops in middle-aged men as a result of shifting hormone balance due to aging.

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