Hormone replacement therapy and cancer: What’s the link?


Researchers in a recent study confirms the link between the use of hormone replacement therapy and cancer.

What is hormone replacement therapy?

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is prescribed to relieve the symptoms of menopause (hot flashes, fatigue) and reduce bone losses. There are two main types of HRT:

  • Combination HRT contains the hormones estrogen and progesterone
  • Estrogen-only HRT contains the only estrogen

Each type of HRT seems to have different effects and side effects.  

Hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer

There have been concerns about adverse effects, particularly the increased risk of breast cancer is associated with the use of HRT. Since 2002, when research linked HRT and risk, the number of women taking HRT has dropped dramatically. Still, many women continue to use it to reduce menopausal symptoms. Current medical practices recommend the use of HRT for no longer than five years.

Published in the journal British Medical Journal, researchers studied the electronic health records of 98 611 women aged 50-79 with a primary breast cancer diagnosis. These patients were matched by age, general practice, and index date to 457 498 female controls. Researchers from the United Kingdom conducted this study between 1998 and 2018. The researchers performed an analysis to study the association between breast cancer risk and different exposures to HRT.

The study found that estrogen-only therapy and combined estrogen and progestogen therapy were both associated with increased breast cancer risk. The risk declines when hormone replacement is stopped, but increased if hormone replacement continues with prolonged duration.  

These findings are consistent with the concern that there is increased risk of breast cancer associated with the long-term use of different hormone replacement preparations. Scientists state that additional research is needed relating to various cancer stages and individual HRT types.   

Reference: Vinogradova Y, Coupland C, Hippisley-Cox J. Use of hormone replacement therapy and risk of breast cancer: nested case-control studies using the QResearch and CPRD databases. BMJ. 2020; 371:m3873. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m3873

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay 

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