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Relationship between Breast Tenderness and Breast Cancer Risk with the use of Hormone Therapies

Review on January 12, 2010

Breast pain hormones

Many women find that they suffer from increased breast tenderness with the onset of menopause. Not only can this condition be extremely uncomfortable but it can add to an over all feeling of ill health for a woman during a difficult time in life. However, breast tenderness doesn't always appear at the onset of menopause, instead breast tenderness can occur as a woman starts hormone therapy medication in order to try and treat other menopausal symptoms. What was not clear until recently was if breast tenderness had any implications about the health of a woman's breasts and if hormonal treatments could also have an effect on this.

In a trail set up by the Women's Health Initiative women who were taking estrogen plus progesterone treatments were give annual mammograms and clinical breast examinations by researchers while self-accessed breast tenderness was also recorded annually. All the women who took part had intact uteri and while some were given 0.625mg of estrogen plus 2.5mg of medroxprogesterone acetate others were given a placebo. Cases of breast cancer were also recorded and considered after an average of 5.6 years during the trail. This was so that breast cancer risk could be calibrated at the end of the study.

Results showed that women who were not suffering from breast tenderness at the beginning of the trail and out of those who were given estrogen plus progesterone, did in fact suffer from increased breast tenderness after the first year of treatment. Researchers also noted that the risk of breast cancer was also significantly higher in this group of women than those who were not reporting increased breast tenderness this time. Women in the placebo group, not taking estrogen plus progesterone were also found to be at less of a risk from breast cancer even with increased breast tenderness

breast exam

Overall this study was extremely conclusive in its results. Breast cancer risk is increased significantly in those women suffering from breast tenderness during their treatment of estrogen plus progesterone, whilst the risk is lowered if breast tenderness is not experienced on the same treatment. The fact that breast tenderness was of little consequence in terms of breast cancer risk when hormones were not entering the body makes it clear that breast tenderness is a sign of breast cancer risk during hormone treatments but can simply be a normal symptom of menopause if no extra hormones are being added to the body. Sadly this adds further risk to hormone treatments which are coming under increasing scrutiny for their dangerous side effects. Alternative treatments may need to be found in order to make hormone treatments safer for menopausal women.

  • JAMA - The Journal of the American Medical Association. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(18):1684-1691.