Hormone replacement therapy strongly linked to breast cancer: study

A digital image is seen at the mammamobil on April 8, 2008 in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

For women suffering through extreme menopausal symptoms, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be the answer to taming those unmanageable hot flashes and mood swings. But new research out of Britain confirms what has been suspected in the medical community for almost two decades: a strong link to breast cancer.

According to the Institute of Cancer Research and Breast Cancer, HRT triples the chances of breast cancer in women, the Daily Mail reports.

The link was suspected back in 2011 but was disputed among medical professionals.

The study also suggests that previous investigators may have underestimated the risk by up to 60 per cent, The Guardian says.

“It’s potentially the most accurate assessment that can be made because it’s looking at the menopausal status of the participants and it’s looking at the length of time HRT was taken and on that basis assesses the change in the risk,” Lady Delyth Mordan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said to the latter publication.

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The study looked at 40,000 women who took the most commonly prescribed form of HRT for five years. The findings concluded that women on the therapy were more than twice as likely to develop cancer compared to the women who took nothing. The risk jumped threefold for those on the medication for 10 years or more.

The most common type of HRT treatment combines oestrogen and progestogen to help minimize the risk of womb cancer that could come along with taking oestrogen-only medication. The treatment is also used for other medical conditions, including protecting against heart disease, bone fractures and colon cancer, among others.

So do the benefits outweigh the risks?

It depends, says Marry Ann Lumsden, consultant gynecologist professor out of Britain.

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“As a doctor who runs clinics for women suffering severe symptoms of the menopause, I have seen first-hand that it can make life miserable,” Lumsden told the Daily Mail. “If a woman is sleep-deprived, suffering depression and discomfort, struggling to get through the working day and her relationships are under strain, then taking HRT is more certainly worth the risk. There is no blood test for quality of life. If a patient tells me they are having a hellish time, then I believe them.”

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But Lumsden believes there are more factors to consider in the overall picture.

“The risks might be higher in individual women for all sorts of reasons,” she says, “for instance, if they are overweight or drink. The importance of risk means different things to different people. The important thing is that women feel informed and comfortable with their decision.”

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation recognizes HRT as a possible modifiable risk factor of breast cancer. According to the foundation, 1 in 9 Canadian women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

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