Estrogen-only therapy may reduce breast cancer risk

On March 7, 2012, The Virginian-Pilot carried an article titled “Estrogen-only therapy may reduce breast cancer risk”. It is excellent piece of reporting, reinforcing what we have been telling women for years. We are thrilled to see that this message is finally getting into the mainstream media.

One fact that we’d like to add to the article is that women who have not had hysterectomies can take bioidentical progesterone with the estrogen without increasing their risk of breast cancer either, and possibly decreasing it.  Here’s the article:

Estrogen-only therapy may reduce breast cancer risk

By Maria Cheng, The Associated Press – 3/7/2012

Women who take estrogen after menopause appear to have a lower risk of breast cancer even years after they quit taking the hormone, according to a new analysis of a landmark study.

The results are reassuring news for women who have had hysterectomies and use the pills to relieve hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, the researchers and other doctors say. Previous observational studies have suggested a possible connection between estrogen and breast cancer.

The new research found women who had a hysterectomy who took estrogen-only pills for about six years were about 20 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than those who didn’t take the hormone, and the benefit lasted for at least five years. The study was published online today in the journal, Lancet Oncology.

“If women are suffering from serious menopause symptoms and have had a hysterectomy, then estrogen alone is a reasonable approach,” said Garnet Ander son, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and the study’s lead author.

Doctors have long prescribed hormones for women after menopause to relieve symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. The pills were also believed to be good for bones and the heart and have other health benefits.

In the 1990s, researchers began a U.S. funded study, known as the Women’s Health Initiative, looking at the effects of estrogen-progestin combination pills and estrogen-only therapies. The estrogen-progestin part of the study was stopped in 2002 when the combo pill was linked to higher risks for heart attacks and breast cancer. In 2004, the estrogen study was halted after researchers detected stroke and blood-clot risks in that group.

Those results shook up conventional wisdom about hormone replacement therapies and led women to stop taking them in droves. Now, the advice is to take the hormones to relieve symptoms at the lowest dose possible for the shortest amount of time because of the potential risks.

Estrogen-only pills are recommended for the approximately 25 percent of women in menopause who have had hysterectomies. Other women are prescribed the combo pill: Estrogen alone can raise their risk of cancer of the uterus.

In the new analysis, Anderson and colleagues tracked more than 7,600 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 who had a hysterectomy. Roughly half took estrogen while the other half took placebo pills for about six years. Most women in both groups had yearly mammograms. The women were followed for about 12 years. In the group that took estrogen, there were 151 cases of breast cancer versus 199 in those on fake pills. That amounted to a 23 percent lower risk of cancer, researchers said.

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