Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cancer link to hormone therapy

Cancer link to hormone therapy

A DROP in the number of breast cancer cases coinciding with a reduction in hormone therapy use is likely to reignite the debate over treatments for women experiencing menopause.

The numbers of Australian women aged over 50 diagnosed with breast cancer has dropped by 7 per cent - equivalent to 600 fewer cases - between 2001 and 2003, during which there was also a 40 per cent decrease in those taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), a study published in the Medical Journal Of Australia yesterday shows. It was the first time in 20 years the breast cancer rate had declined.

The findings of the study, by the NSW Cancer Council and the Australian National University, back up research linking HRT use to increased breast cancer rates.

Dr Andrew Penman, CEO at the Cancer Council NSW, said the "findings are great news for women".

"The correlation between the drop in breast cancer cases and HRT use is clear and its importance can't be underestimated," Dr Penman said.

The director of the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, Dr Helen Zorbas, said although the link was "likely" the study did not categorically show a drop in HRT caused the decrease in cancer rates and did not change the advice to women regarding the use of HRT for the short-term relief of menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.

"There may be other factors which could be contributing to this decrease in breast cancer incidence," she said.

The study did not say how long the women had been taking the HRT.

Dr Zorbas said for every 1000 women in their 50s taking HRT over five years, there would be an additional four women diagnosed with breast cancer but the risk returned to normal within a few years of stopping treatment.

"All the data … shows that taking combined HRT does increase the risk for breast cancer with the longer duration of use increasing the risk," she said.

Millions of women around the world stopped using HRT after it was linked with increased breast cancer rates in the controversial Women's Health Initiative report in 2002, which last month was criticised as flawed at a World Congress in Madrid.