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HRT And The Risk Of Breast Cancer

Q: I heard that the National Institutes of Health just canceled a huge study on hormone replacement therapy because it increased the risk of breast cancer. Is this true? I take HRT for my hot flashes; should I stop?

Dr. Donnica:
It is true. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has stopped part of the Women's Health Initiative early because of an increased risk of invasive breast cancer found in the group taking estrogen plus progestin. This large multi-center trial also found increases in coronary heart disease, stroke, and pulmonary embolism in those women as well. While the combination HRT group also showed noteworthy benefits--including fewer cases of hip fractures and a reduced risk of colon cancer--the oversight committee decided that on balance the potential harm was greater than the potential benefit for women in that study. The study group taking estrogen alone, by the way, was not affected by this decision and will continue. Does this study apply to you? It did not include the treatment of menopausal symptoms in their risk/benefit evaluation, which sounds like the main reason you take HRT. I do not recommend that any woman currently taking HRT make any snap decisions about her therapy based upon this news. I do recommend that any woman with questions about how this news applies to her should speak with her healthcare provider, and review her own personal risk-benefit profile. As always, I recommend that all women in their 40's and above have an annual physical exam, an annual mammogram, and an annual Pap smear with a rectal exam whether or not they take HRT. During your annual visit, you should also review all current medicines (including non-prescription products and supplements) with your physician.

For more information on HRT, click here.

Created: 7/11/2002  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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