Women who used hormone replacement therapy (HRT) not only put themselves at risk for breast cancer, they are also at greater risk of developing more severe forms of the disease and at an increased risk of dying, according to a study published in the Oct. 20 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study contradicts previous studies that showed while HRT increased a woman’s risk of breast cancer, the disease was often less aggressive and the tumors more treatable.

The findings only apply to combined estrogen-plus-progestin therapy, and not estrogen-only therapy.

HRT was first touted as a miracle treatment for troublesome symptoms of menopause, from hot flashes to mood swings. It was also suggested that the hormone pills helped protect women against cancer, heart disease and other conditions of aging. By 2002, 35 to 40 percent of postmenopausal women using HRT.

However, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a legendary study of more than 16,000 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 who still had their uterus, was abruptly halted in 2002 when researchers discovered an increased incidence of breast cancer in women taking combined HRT. It was also discovered that HRT also increased a women’s risk of heart attacks, strokes and dementia.

More than a decade since the study into the impact of HRT on women’s health ended, researchers have conducted regular follow-ups with participants and have unveiled more disturbing information. Women who used combined HRT were 25 percent more likely to have an invasive breast cancer than women in the placebo group. Seventy-eight percent were more likely to have cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes, and they were two times as likely to die of breast cancer. They were also 57 percent more likely than women in the placebo group to die from any cause after receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Doctors say the news reinforces the message that women should take the lowest dose possible of HRT for the shortest duration possible.


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