Users of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Before HRT and cancer were linked together, menopausal women often relied on the treatment to eliminate the menopausal symptoms such as fatigue and hot flashes and to decrease the loss in bone density. Since 2002, it has been an established fact that HRT and the risk of cancer are directly related and many women have therefore, stopped using the treatment to avoid that. Fortunately, the numbers have decreased quite a bit but some women are still taking the treatment to reduce their menopausal symptoms.
A Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can be differentiated based on the ingredients or components. It has 3 types:
- Estrogen-only HRT, which consists only of estrogen.
- Cyclical HRT, where estrogen is taken continuously. However, the progestogen, which is another female sex hormone, is given in monthly or three-monthly doses.
- Continuous combined HRT, which contains estrogen and progestogen taken at the same time.
It is important to remember that each type of Hormone Replacement Therapy has a different effect on the risk of cancer. While the combination HRT can increase the chance of breast cancer by 75%, estrogen-only HRT does increase the risk of contracting breast cancer but by a lesser percentage and only when it is used for more than 10 years. The Estrogen-only HRT can also be responsible for increasing the risk of ovarian cancer.
Combination HRT poses a threat of cancer even when it is used for a short amount of time and it also increases the chances of the cancerous symptoms being detected at an advanced stage rather than at the beginning. It increases the risk of a woman dying from breast cancer in a short amount of time after being diagnosed. The risk of breast cancer can significantly increase during the first couple of years of taking combination HRT.
Combination HRT, in high dosage, is more lethal than lower dosage HRT. However, if a woman has stopped taking HRT, then after a couple of years, the risk of contracting breast cancer goes back down to normal. Estrogen-only HRT can only pose a threat of cancer if it is used for more than 10 years.
Womb (Endometrial) Cancer
Estrogen-only HRT can increase the risk of womb cancer but the concept is quite complicated when it comes to combined HRT. There is some evidence that suggests that combined HRT can counteract and even eliminate the effects of cancerous symptoms or cancer causing compounds. However, studies have shown that the longer a woman uses progestogen, the lesser the chance there is of them being diagnosed with womb cancer. There isn’t enough evidence to suggest that a certain dose of estrogen can override the cancerous effects of estrogen and can counteract the effects of the HRT altogether.
Whether a woman uses estrogen-only or combined (estrogen and progestogen) HRT, both of the choices can directly increase her risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. A research stated that the risk for ovarian cancer was higher in women who have been taking the HRT for 5 years or longer. After she discontinues the treatment, the risk of contracting ovarian cancer goes back down to normal.
Precautions That You Can Take
The side effects of menopause can be drastically damaging and can significantly reduce the quality of life for a woman, driving most women to outweigh the advantages of HRT against the risk of cancer. The best course of action will be to talk to your doctor to adopt all other options that can be used to reduce the effects of menopause. Exhaust all other options before turning to HRT and ask your doctor to advise you on how to minimize the risk of contracting breast cancer and to prescribe a treatment and medication combination that can relive your symptoms without posing any risk of cancer. However, if the only way to counteract the effects of hot flashes and fatigue is to take HRT, then ask your doctor to prescribe a lower dose or formula of an Estrogen-only HRT for the shortest amount of time.