Hormone therapy appears to increase the risk of breast cancer as well as lung cancer among postmenopausal women. These results were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Postmenopausal hormone therapy with the female hormones estrogen alone or estrogen plus progestin (combined hormone therapy) effectively manages several common menopausal symptoms. However, a large clinical trial conducted as part of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) raised concerns about the health risks of these therapies. In 2002, for example, it was reported that combined estrogen plus progestin increases the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and blood clots. Women taking estrogen plus progestin had fewer fractures and were less likely to develop colorectal cancer, but for most women, these benefits were thought to be outweighed by the risks. Researchers continue to evaluate long-term data from this trial.

Researchers affiliated with the WHI recently evaluated data from the WHI trial to determine if hormone therapy affected the risk of developing breast and other cancers. The WHI trial included postmenopausal women who were treated with hormone therapy as well as women who received placebo. Cancer incidence among participants was measured three years after the trial.

  • Cardiovascular effects at three years were similar between women treated with hormone therapy and those who received placebo.
  • Overall, the risk of developing any type of cancer was 24% higher among women treated with hormone therapy compared with those who received placebo.
  • The rate of breast cancer and lung cancers was significantly higher among women treated with hormone therapy.

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The researchers concluded that the use of hormone therapy appears to significantly increase the risk of developing any type of cancer in postmenopausal women. Women who are suffering from menopausal symptoms may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of hormone therapy.

Reference: Heiss G, Wallace R, Anderson G, et al. Health risks and benefits 3 years after stopping randomized treatment with estrogen and progestin. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2008; 299:1036-1045.

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