How much does HRT raise my cancer risk?

1:18 PM, May 25, 2011   |    comments
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Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

By Kay Quinn, Healthbeat Reporter

St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - It's one of the most difficult health questions many women face as they work through menopause: whether to take hormone replacement therapy.

In this week's "8 Ways to Prevent Cancer" segment, we answer the question: how much does HRT raise a woman's risk of breast cancer?

"I think everyone agrees, hormones are not a long term solution," says Dr. Graham Colditz, a researcher at the Siteman Cancer Center.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was once touted as a huge health benefit for women, particularly for preventing heart disease at mid-life.  But that prescription changed drastically when HRT was found to greatly increase the risk of breast cancer.

"The combination of estrogen plus progestin or Prempro will double risk in five to ten years," says Dr. Colditz.

It's the circulating hormones in women after menopause that are directly related to breast cancer.

That means even unopposed estrogen like Premarin, or testosterone supplements carry a risk because they're ultimately converted in the body to the same estrogen that causes breast cancer.

"The risk over five to ten years is probably a 30 percent increase," says Dr. Colditz.

Dr. Colditz says even bio-identical hormones raise the risk.

He recommends talking with your doctor to balance individual risks against any potential benefit from HRT, or looking for alternative ways of dealing with the symptoms of menopause.

What would he recommend for his wife?

"I'd actually go with use of vaginal cream, estrogen low dose for symptom relief there and again no long term oral hormone," says Dr. Colditz.

Send us your questions about cancer prevention.

Click on the "Features" tab and go to Siteman 8 Ways in the drop-down menu.



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