According to an article recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, women who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer may have a decreased risk of death if they have used estrogen for hormone replacement therapy, particularly if estrogen was used within five years of diagnosis.

As women reach menopause and beyond, more than 80% will experience symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbance, and vaginal dryness. Hormone therapy (HRT)-typically comprised of estrogen, with or without progestin-is a common and effective treatment for many of these symptoms. Recent studies, however, have raised concerns about the health effects of postmenopausal hormone therapy.

Use of estrogen plus progestin has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, and blood clots and a decreased risk of fractures and colorectal cancer. Researchers continue to evaluate the effects of HRT on different aspects of health among postmenopausal women.

Researchers recently further evaluated the effects of HRT including estrogen only among postmenopausal women who have participated in the Nurses’ Health Study. Eight hundred thirty-four women in this study had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer between 1976 and 2000.

  • Women who had reported usage of estrogen before diagnosis of colorectal cancer had a 36% reduction in the risk of death from colorectal cancer and a 26% reduction in the risk of overall death compared to women who had never used estrogen.
  • The reduction in deaths was largely limited to women who started using estrogen within five years of their diagnosis of colorectal cancer.
  • The use of estrogen following diagnosis, longer duration of use, or use prior to five years before diagnosis of colorectal cancer did not confer a significant survival benefit among these women.

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The researchers concluded that the use of estrogen alone as HRT appears to reduce the risk of death from colorectal cancer among women who use estrogen within five years of diagnosis. However, it is important for postmenopausal women to discuss their individual risks and benefits of HRT with their physician.

Reference: Chan J, Meyerhardt J, Chan A, et al. Hormone replacement therapy and survival after colorectal cancer diagnosis. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2007; 24: 5680-5686.

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