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Hormone Replacement Therapy and its Link with Breast Cancer

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Review on November 26, 2009

The benefits of hormone replacement therapy in reducing menopause symptoms have been well documented. They include reducing the menopause symptoms of osteoporosis, along with reducing the risk for coronary heart disease. However, despite these benefits on menopause symptoms, many women fear to take hormone replacement therapy because of its possible link to breast cancer. It is uncertain whether the use of hormone therapy promotes the growth of breast cancer. The 1999 study by Dr. Susan M. Gapstur et al.: "Hormone Replacement Therapy and Risk of Breast Cancer With a Favorable Histology: Results of the Iowa Women's Health Study" explores this link.

The study attempted to determine whether hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms affected the type of invasive carcinoma, in particular ductal and lobular carcinoma. Data was taken from the Iowa Women's Health Study. This study tracked postmenopausal women in Iowa for eleven years, from January 1986 to December 1996.1520 postmenopausal women between the ages of 55 and 69 with a history of breast cancer were chosen from a total of 37,105 women.

Ductal and lobular carcinomas account for 85% to 90% of breast cancer tumors. This is why the study chose to focus mainly on these two types of cancer. Information about the exact risks that hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms would help hormonally related solutions to what could possibly be hormone replacement therapy.

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The results of the data were that hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms is linked to with an increased occurrence of invasive breast cancer with a favorable histology. A positive, dose-response relationship was observed between duration of taking hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms and the rate of breast cancer. The link appeared to be stronger for current users than prior users. However, hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms was not noted between with the presence of invasive ductal or lobular carcinoma.

If this information about hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms is confirmed by other studies, it could have important implications for public health since so many women use hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms in the United States. Only a small percentage (less than 15% of the population) develops the type of tumor that it is confirmed that hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms causes. Also, these types of cancers caused by hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms are easily cured. That should be taken into account when the risks of hormone replacement therapy are weighed against the benefits.

Sources:
  • PhD Gapstur, Susan M.; MD Morrow, Monica; PhD Sellers, Thomas A. "Hormone Replacement Therapy and Risk of Breast Cancer With a Favorable Histology: Results of the Iowa Women's Health Study." JAMA. 1999.