These results were published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention.

Symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats are common as women pass menopause. These symptoms occur as estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate and drop. Because low hormone levels may decrease the risk of breast cancer, it’s possible that the presence and severity of menopausal symptoms could provide information about breast cancer risk.

To explore the relationship between menopausal symptoms and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, researchers collected information from 1,437 postmenopausal women. Nine hundred and eighty-eight of the women had previously been diagnosed with breast cancer and 449 women had not. Information about frequency and severity of several menopausal symptoms was collected by interview.

  • Women who had ever experienced menopausal symptoms were half as likely to develop ductal or lobular breast cancer as women who had never experienced menopausal symptoms. This reduction in risk persisted even after accounting for hormone therapy use, age at menopause, and body weight.
  • Among women with hot flashes, greater intensity of hot flashes was linked with a lower risk of breast cancer.

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These results suggest that the frequency and severity of menopausal symptoms may provide some information about a woman’s subsequent risk of breast cancer. In a prepared statement, the lead author of this study noted “While menopausal symptoms can certainly have a negative impact on quality of life, our study suggests that there may be a silver lining if the reduction in breast cancer risk is confirmed in future studies. If these findings are confirmed, they have the potential to improve our understanding of the causes of breast cancer and improve approaches to preventing this disease.”

Regardless of menopausal symptoms, women should follow their healthcare provider’s recommendations regarding breast cancer screening. Early detection of breast cancer improves outcomes.

Reference: Huang Y, Malone KE, Cushing-Haugen K, Daling JR, Li CI. Relationship between menopausal symptoms and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention. 2011;20:1-10.

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