Hormone Replacement Therapy: Is It Linked to Cancer?

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Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 2.01.32 PMHormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) used to be frequently prescribed for women undergoing the negative effects of menopause, such as hot flashes and poor sleep. But starting around 2002, when the Women s Health Initiative data were published that found a link between HRT and breast cancer, use of HRT dropped precipitously. Still the current practice has been to prescribe HRT either estrogen alone or in combination with progesterone for no more than five years to women who suffer from severe menopausal symptoms.

Recently, however, a large meta-analysis of over 50 epidemiological studies found that there was a slightly increased risk of ovarian cancer in women who had used HRT, even those who had used it for less than five years (the risk was increased by between 37 and 43 percent, depending on the length of use). One of the study authors, Richard Peto, FRCP of the University of Oxford was quoted: The two types of ovarian cancer are moderately increased.

Yet an even more recent meta-analysis of 43 randomized studies will be presented at the meeting of the Endocrine Society and was described on Medpagetoday, This study, led by Dr. Khalid Benkhadra of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, found no link between HRT and death due to heart attack, breast cancer or stroke. However, women who had cancer other than breast cancer did have a 34 percent greater risk of death from cancer than did women who took a placebo. Since this study has not yet been published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, it must be considered as preliminary.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross had this to say: Taken together, these two studies seem to indicate a slightly increased risk of cancers other than breast cancer with the use of HRT. However, we must await publication of the second study before drawing any firm conclusions. In the meantime, women whose lives are made miserable due to menopausal symptoms should be conferring with knowledgeable health care providers, taking family and individual histories into account, when considering whether or not to use HRT. The small increased risk may well be worth it.