Estrogen Receptor Beta and Cancer

Last week, a symposium held in Stockholm reviewed the biological effects of estrogen receptor beta. Striking among the presentations was a dual role of this receptor isoform in the regulation of cell growth: decreasing proliferation in the prostate, breast and colon (and hence a potential anti-cancer effect); and increasing proliferation in the hippocampus (and hence potentially improving certain types of cognitive function).  The role in physiology of this receptor subtype, discovered in 1996, is likely to continue to evolve and will potentially yield new, improved, and specific forms of treatment for an array of disorders.

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Mental Health Minute

Dr. Susan Killenberg shares a new approach to treating depression that is now available at UNC Mental Health Specialists.

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Real Doctors, Real People

Professor of  Obstetrics and Gynecology. 


Meet Dr. John Steege, a UNC physician and an investigator on several research studies ongoing at the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders.

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Taking a second look at estrogen and breast cancer risks

A new review of data from the Women’s Health Initiative suggests that estrogen therapy during perimenopause may offer some protection from breast cancer for certain women.

Joseph Ragaz, M.D., an oncologist and clinical professor at the University of British Columbia, says in his report that certain women who take estrogen only (but not progestin) for their symptoms may be protected from breast cancer.

Data from the Women’s Health Initiative shows that among 8,500 women with no family history of the disease, use of only estrogen  lowered breast cancer risk by 32 percent when compared with similar women taking a placebo. Among the 7,600 women with no history of benign breast disease, those taking estrogen had a 43 percent lower risk of breast cancer.

Learn more from The New York Times.

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New depression treatment at UNC

The UNC Department of Psychiatry is now providing treatment with NeuroStar Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy system. The Neurostar TMS Therapy system is the first and only device of its kind to be cleared for the treatment of depression by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It was approved in October 2008.

TMS Therapy is a non-systemic (does not circulate in the bloodstream throughout the body) and non-invasive (does not involve surgery) form of neuromodulation that delivers highly-focused MRI-strength magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in an area of the brain that is linked to depression.  NeuroStar TMS Therapy is a 40-minute outpatient procedure that is prescribed by a psychiatrist, does not require anesthesia or sedation, and patients remain awake and alert.  The treatment is typically administered daily for 4-6 weeks.

For more information about TMS, please contact Shirley Morter, Administrative Director of UNC Mental Health Specialists at 929-7449 or

Learn more about TMS here.

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Holding a mother holding a baby

William S. Meyer, MSW, BCD, Associate Clinical Professor at Duke University’s Departments of Psychiatry and OB/GYN and a leader of the Duke Postpartum Depression Support Group, spoke to UNC’s Perinatal Psychiatry Team about treating women with high-risk pregnancies. Meyer about working with women affected by postpartum depression:

We tell them it will get better, because it will. We tell them that regardless of whether they stay at home or work, whether they breast-feed or bottle-feed, they can still be terrific mothers and have happy and thriving babies. Finally, we tell them the most important thing: that they will find it easier to give to their babies if their needs are taken care of first. We encourage them to be assertive and reach out and get assistance from all who can offer it.

Parenting an infant is unusually difficult and demanding. No fewer than 10-15% of new mothers experience significant postpartum anxiety and depression. Consider then just how many women are so affected! If we wish to give this condition the currency and visibility it deserves, and I believe we must, we must do so by emphasizing its high prevalence. Postpartum stress/anxiety/depression is real, it is common, and it is treatable. Let us all strive to reach out to new mothers in need so that they may be provided with good health care, accurate information, adequate resources and support for as long as it may be necessary.

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Neural differences seen in women with postpartum depression

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found that women with postpartum depression have reduced activity in parts of the brain that manage emotional responses and recognize emotional cues in others.

Researchers conducted MRIs on 30 mothers of infants and found that negative emotion faces activated the left dorsomedial prefrontal cortex significantly less in depressed mothers than in healthy moms. These deficits might represent diminished awareness of the emotions of others and less empathy for them, according to researchers.

When the women saw negative images, communication between the left dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the left amygdala was seen in healthy moms but not in the depressed ones, suggesting that this might be an important neural circuit that regulates emotional response to unpleasant sounds, such as a baby’s cry.

These new findings were published online Sept. 15 by the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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