Breast Cancer Risk and Hormone Replacement Therapy

It was 2002, and millions of women using hormone replacement therapy suddenly stopped taking their medication Doctors who regularly recommended hormones for women near menopause stopped prescribing it. That year, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) ended their HRT trial early after finding that health risks outweighed benefits. Researchers had observed an increase in the risk of breast cancer for participating women who took estrogen with a synthetic form of progestin.

Uncertainty and confusion remains more than 10 years after this study. Women still want to address menopausal symptoms, but are unsure whether hormone replacement is a safe option.

Discomfort and difficult symptoms of menopause include:

  • Irregular period
  • Hot flashes
  • Moodiness/depression
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems
  • Vaginal dryness and painful intercourse
  • Vaginal atrophy
  • Need to urinate often or urinary incontinence
  • Increased Urinary Tract Infections
  • Changes in skin and hair

Today, many women don’t consider treatment for debilitating symptoms. The lack of updated information has denied almost a generation of women the opportunity to improve their quality of life during their menopausal years.

Risks Linked to Estrogen Combined With Synthetic Progestin

Further analysis of the WHI study shed more light on reasons for these results. Researchers found that some women had been taking estrogen and progesterone before the study began. Others participants had additional risk factors to health such as obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

New research shows that health risks depend on how long hormone replacement therapy lasts. It also depends on whether estrogen alone, or estrogen and progesterone together are used. New findings show that estrogen-only HRT presents much lower risk of breast cancer. And the risk of breast cancer only increases when it is used for longer than 10 years.

More recent studies confirm that the type of progesterone used in treatment matters a great deal to breast cancer risk. Synthetic progestin (different in many ways from the body’s own progesterone)is linked with an increased risk for breast cancer. But studies are showing that formulations using bioidentical hormones — those made to have the exact same chemistry as the body’s own hormones — are linked with lower risks than synthetic versions. Other studies show a decrease in the risk of breast cancer using estrogen and bioidentical progesterone. The potential protective role of bioidentical HRT needs further study to confirm these findings.

A Better, More Natural Way

For women looking to reduce discomforts of hormone imbalance and improve quality of life, safer treatments are now available.

New forms of hormone replacement therapy offer options worth considering. Doctors who have the latest information can offer treatments with closer monitoring and safer hormone formulations.

The specific preparations, strength and duration of your treatment will depend on your unique needs. You and your doctor will need to perform careful testing to determine your best treatment. Talk to Dr. Betty Keller about whether hormone replacement therapy can safely give you the relief and results you want for better health.

Dr. Betty Keller keeps up-to-date on the latest findings to help you develop a plan for optimal health.

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