Breast Cancer and HRT: Should I Worry?

Last week, new research was released showing the risk of breast cancer from HRT is double what was previously thought. It was a scary headline to read, especially for those of us relying on HRT to relieve awful menopause symptoms. So how worried should we be?

The new research by the University of Oxford looked at 58 studies over the past 16 years to gather data on HRT and its effects. The data found that:

  • HRT (not including topical oestrogens) was responsible for one million deaths worldwide since 1990.
  • One in 50 women of average weight taking the most common form of HRT for five years will get breast cancer.
  • The risk was higher for those taking oestrogen and progesterone compared to those taking only oestrogen (such as those who have had a hysterectomy).
  • The longer you take HRT, the greater the risk, with the risk twice as great for women taking it for over 10 years, although there was no significant risk for those taking it for less than a year.
  • The risk doesn’t go when you stop taking it, with the possibility of developing breast cancer continuing for 10 years after.

There’s no doubt that the list of findings above can leave even the least panicky of us with an extra layer of sweat (on top of the hot flushes!).

Don’t Panic – The Facts on HRT and Breast Cancer

The headlines are proclaiming that the risk of breast cancer is double what was previously thought. However, headlines are there to grab attention, and it’s important to look at the facts behind it.

The risk of developing breast cancer over the next 20 years for those not on HRT in western countries is currently at 6.3%. For those taking HRT, this rises to 8.3%. Yes, this is an increase, but it only slightly increases the already existing risk. To put that risk into context, a woman has a greater risk of developing breast cancer if she is overweight. Alcohol intake is also seen to be a lifestyle factor that has a higher risk of breast cancer than HRT. It’s also worth mentioning that women who are obese and therefore at an extra risk due to their tissue producing extra oestrogen after the menopause, didn’t have any increased risk in taking HRT.

Weigh Up The Risks And Make a Personal Decision

It’s important to be fully informed about the risks of HRT. Obviously, if breast cancer runs in your family it may not be the solution for you. However, there are many benefits to HRT. The symptoms of menopause can affect every aspect of our day-to-day lives. Side effects including hot flushes, anxiety, night sweats and painful sex to name just a few, can be extremely debilitating. They can have a significant impact on a woman’s physical and psychological health, career, social life and relationships. For many, this slight increased risk of developing breast cancer is worth it. Each woman should make the decision about what works for them and whether their symptoms are worth the risk. HRT also has other benefits to be considered – such as protection of bones and a decrease in cardiovascular risk.

If you are on HRT and worried, it’s advised you go talk to your doctor about your options. It’s also important to know your body. Make sure you check your boobs regularly so you can be vigilant for any signs of breast cancer– and that goes for women both on HRT and not! If you are unsure about anything, see your doctor straight away.

Most importantly, there are many things that can increase the risk of getting cancer. So stay healthy – eat well, drink wisely, move every day and take care of yourself.



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