Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Hormones?

A recent report raises concerns once again about the link between hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer. Our FOF experts weigh in.

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Last week, the New York Times featured this headline on it’s front page: Breast Cancer Seen as Riskier With Hormone. The article, written by reporter Denise Grady, goes on to say:

Hormone treatment after menopause, already known to increase the risk of breast cancer, also makes it more likely that the cancer will be advanced and deadly, a study finds. Women who took hormones and developed breast cancer were more likely to have cancerous lymph nodes, a sign of more advanced disease, and were more likely to die from the disease than were breast cancer patients who had never taken hormones.

The new information comes from the continuing follow-ups with 12,788 women who were in the Women’s Health Initiative, a major federally financed study that compared women taking hormones with a group taking placebos. The study was halted in 2002, three years ahead of schedule, because researchers found that the hormones were causing small but significant increases in the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, strokes and blood clots in the lungs.

Click here to read the full article.

We’ve featured several stories on menopause and hormone therapy on Faboverfifty and we were alarmed to see this most recent report. Should we start telling women to throw their hormones down the toilet? We reached out to some of our favorite FOF health experts, many of whom have advocated hormone use in the past. Below, their reactions to the story:

  • Alan M. Altman MD, Perimenopause, post menopause, natural hormonal therapy and women’s sexual function and dysfunction specialist.
    • Image“This is mostly already published data from 2004. The only change is a very small increase in mortality from breast cancer in the women taking Prempro. This increase amounts to ONE WOMAN per 10,000 women per year! There is minimal statistical significance to this and no clinical significance whatsoever, hence, too much is being made about such a minimal increase. Additionally, when you talk about the specific small increase in risk, you also have to talk about the potential benefits that may accrue while being exposed to the potential risk. These benefits have been previously reported in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/whi/ as well as numerous other studies.
    • It’s also important to remember that they only studied one estrogen product (oral Prempro) and only one dose for everyone. None of the other estrogen products were studied. Second, you can’t make a statement about what a woman should or shouldn’t take by looking at a single study. You have to look at all the potential risks AND benefits. They need to be placed in the appropriate context. Remember, every study is a piece of a puzzle and sometimes it takes 50 pieces or more to complete this puzzle and obtain the truth. Unfortunately the media treats each puzzle piece as a completed puzzle and that confuses the public causing unnecessary hysteria and mass fear.”
  • Heidi Houston, Executive Producer, Hot Flash Havoc
    • Image“This is ‘déjà vu’ all over again. The WHI has presented a rehash of data on breast cancer first presented six years ago with a few small additions. There is no mention of the long term benefits of hormone therapy that help decrease the risk of death in order to balance these risks and put them in context. There is no mention of the WHI’s own data showing decreased heart attack, osteoporotic fracture, diabetes and colon cancer in women who start the appropriate hormones at the appropriate time–within 10 years of their final menstrual period. The WHI researchers are once again overstating the risks and thereby frightening women into throwing their hormones down the toilet.”
  • Staness Jonekos, co-author of The Menopause Makeover
    • Image“The study found the increased risk translates into 2.6 vs. 1.3 deaths from breast cancer each year for every 10,000 women taking hormones. There was no increase in breast cancer risk with estrogen alone (without progestin) among women with hysterectomy over an average of 7 years of randomized treatment. The current new lower doses of hormone and natural progesterone as opposed to synthetic progestin are not included in this study.
    • HT has always carried risk. Making the choice to use HT is very individualized. Bottom line: Anyone taking HT must consider their risk factors — stroke, deep vein thrombosis, heart disease, breast cancer, uterine cancer, history of blood clotting.
    • The current HT recommendation is the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time taken around the time of menopause. We are all different. We must work closely with our healthcare providers to determine whether hormone therapy is an acceptable choice.
  • Dr. Judith Volkar, MD, Center for Specialized Women’s Health, the Cleveland Clinic
    • Image“This is not a huge increase in breast cancer. If you look at the data one way, you think, “oh my, it’s double the risk of beast cancer!” But if you look at the overall risk, it went from 1.9 to 2.9, an increase of just one woman out of every 10,000.
    • We do so many other things in our lives that put us at risk, you have to put it in perspective. It’s also worth noting that many of the women in that study started taking hormones in their 70s. It didn’t separate out women who are newly menopausal from women who were far from menopause. The typical woman who seeks hormonal treatment is within 10 years of menopause. Data from those women show a 30% decrease in mortality overall with the use of hormones.
    • The bottom line: You don’t have to panic. You need to go and have a talk with your physician or seek counsel from a menopause expert and find a plan that works for you.”
Author
FOF Health Experts

10 Responses to “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Hormones?”

  1. caroline50 says:

    I was just prescribed hormone replacement (I asked for it) – estrace 5mg and progresterone on day 16-25. The hot flashes are keeping me awake at night. So which are better – these so called synthetic or bio-identical (which by the way, appear non-existent in Canada)? I haven’t started yet, but I’m close…

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  2. nascarblue3 says:

    During my time of Menopause I had a male GYN, he suggested I should take HRT, I always read alot of information concerning drugs doctors want to prescribe to me, I was aware that HRT comes from the urine of female horses kept in inhumane areas, that yes was a concern due to my love and loyality towards animals, I told him I refuse to put female horse urine into my system and I do not believe that enough studies have been done on HRT, and I also told him, Doctor, wait a few years you will find out that this HRT will cause some adverse effects on women, possibly Cancer. And it seems I was right. Women go through ALOT and it is so important that we arm ourselves with as much information as possible before these doctors write out prescriptions. I ended up changing to a female GYN, his comment to me was, “You should not have this much information on HRT, you should listen to me” yes that upset me, I told me as a woman I better have as much information and the choice of what goes into my body. I went through Menopause naturally, no it was not a breeze, each woman I believe suffers differently. Be careful, do your research and take your time on your choices. To me these creators of all of this medicine are thrown onto the market too fast without the research needed. It comes down to the money, hurry up, put it on the market and we will see its effects on women down the road. I am glad I armed myself with the info I needed to tell him NO, I did not appreciate his response, I also told him he is a man and I am also going to choose a woman GYN, men can not understand what we go through, too much to go into right now.

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  3. marrobin36 says:

    I was on Primarin & Provera after my breast cancer surgery & radiation. Apparently my oncologist was way ahead of his time because he said these hormones could increase my risk of breast cancer again once again, & took me off them immediately. This was based on items read & that was in 1995. Thank you one & all.

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  4. linaperl says:

    Hi ladies. In re to bio-identical vs. non bioidentical, I suggest you read the interview we did with Staness Jonekos, the author of The Menopause Makeover. You can find it here: http://faboverfifty.com/intheknow/our-health/menopause-makeover
    We will certainly be covering this topic further in the future . . .

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  5. Opalite says:

    Women and doctors need to remember, theses studies pertain to synthetic hormones, which are certainly trouble. Natural (bio-identical hormones) are safe, you are just replacing what your body is missing naturally. These studies need to specific as to the kind of HRT they are reporting on, namely–synthetic.

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  6. Tari says:

    I have been taking bio-identical hormones for about 6 years and wonder if this news affects women like us. They are expensive and sometimes I wonder if they are worth it but then again I wonder what would happen if I quit. I am well past menopause (64 years old) so I don’t know if I really need these hormones anymore.

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  7. vkuhl says:

    Here we go again with more hysteria over statistically insignificant findings dredged from questionable data. This will unfortunately cause more women to panic and discontinue a treatment that may be helping them. I am interested in reading more about bioidentical versus pharmaceutical hormone replacement. My GYN insists that there is no difference and that paying more for bioidenticals is a waste of money. I would like to read some discussion on that.

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  8. Real Cougar Wowan says:

    All of the studies have been done with synthetic hormones and the results have done nothing but scare women – not help them. I have been on bioidenticals for over 10 years and believe they protect my body and mind from the diseases of aging. We need need studies like Kronos to give us their results.

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  9. Geri says:

    You are right, Karen. We will do a piece on bio-identical hormones

    Geri Brin

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  10. karenmm58 says:

    I wish we heard from the other side-the proponents of bioidentical hormones as opposed to pharma created ones

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