According to a recent article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, women with lung cancer who have taken hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may have a significantly poorer overall survival than those who have never taken HRT.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is often prescribed for women during menopause. During menopause, a natural phase of the female lifecycle, the ovaries produce significantly less estrogen, ovulation ceases, and menstruation ends. For many women, menopause has uncomfortable side effects; these may include hot flashes, sleep disturbances, depression, mood swings, and anxiety. Additionally, menopause may also be accompanied by increased urinary tract infections, incontinence, vaginal discomfort due to a lack of estrogen-based lubrication, and decreased bone density.

HRT has been effectively used to lessen these side effects and is widely prescribed for women experiencing these unpleasant symptoms. HRT can contain estrogen alone, progesterone alone, or a combination of the two hormones. Since there appears to be possible links between HRT use and certain diseases, such as breast cancer, research continues to investigate different outcomes for patients who use specific combinations or single-agent HRT and how duration of use relates to outcomes.

Researchers from Nebraska, North Dakota, and North Carolina recently analyzed data involving women who had been diagnosed with lung cancer. This review included nearly 500 women; 76% of whom had been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and 24% of whom had been diagnosed with small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Histories of family incidence of cancer, smoking, HRT, and other variables were evaluated to detect possible associations with patient outcomes.

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Overall, women who had taken HRT previously (defined as HRT with estrogen alone, progesterone alone, or estrogen plus progesterone) for at least 6 weeks, had significantly reduced overall survival compared to women who had never taken HRT. Taking factors into account such as the stage (extent of spread) of cancer, treatment, and age, overall survival was 79 months for women who had never taken HRT, compared to only 39 months for those who had previously taken HRT. The reduction in survival associated with HRT appeared more pronounced among women with a history of smoking.

The researchers concluded that previous HRT use is associated with a significant reduction in survival among women diagnosed with cancer, particularly among those who smoke. The researchers state that this data may provide important information for women with lung cancer and further study of this issue is urgently needed.

Reference: Ganti A, Sahmoun A, Panwalkar A, Tendulkar K, Potti A. Hormone Replacement Therapy Is Associated With Decreased Survival in Women With Lung Cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2006; 24: 59-63.

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