A study looked at the results from earlier studies on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), breast cancer risk, and other health risks. Based on their review of the data, the researchers concluded that HRT used to manage bothersome menopausal symptoms probably doesn't increase the risk of breast cancer or heart disease in women who use HRT early in menopause, before age 60.
It's important to know that these conclusions DON'T agree with the conclusions made by many other experts, who feel there is a lot of credible evidence showing that HRT, especially combination HRT (which contains both estrogen and progesterone), increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as heart attack and stroke.
Some of the strongest evidence about the risks of HRT comes from a large study called the Women's Health Initiative (WHI). When WHI results were released in 2002, doctors and public health officials concluded that the risks of HRT were real and that HRT should be used with caution to manage menopausal symptoms. That conclusion still stands and Breastcancer.org agrees with it.
The side effects of menopause can dramatically reduce some women's quality of life. These women have to weigh the benefits of HRT against the risks. If you're having severe hot flashes or other menopausal side effects and are considering taking HRT, talk to your doctor about:
- how to minimize your breast cancer risk -- research shows that taking combination HRT for fewer than 3 years doesn't significantly increase breast cancer risk
- the pros and cons of different types of HRT -- estrogen-only HRT appears to increase breast cancer risk less than combination HRT
- a plan so you take HRT for the shortest time possible.
Together, you and your doctor can decide if HRT or another treatment to ease menopausal side effects might be right for you. If you decide to use HRT, try to make healthy lifestyle choices that can lower your breast cancer risk. During and after HRT, make sure to follow recommended breast cancer screening guidelines, including monthly breast self-exams, annual mammograms, and annual physical exams by your doctor.