HRT Thwarts Breast Cancer? New Research Draws Fire


"As is, in its current presentation, this abstract could only create confusion for providers and patients as a national news story," said Dr. Tim Byers, professor of preventive medicine and biometrics at the University of Colorado in Denver.

"The results are really four years old and have already been incorporated in current concepts regarding menopausal hormone therapy," said Dr. Rowan Chlebowski, principal investigator at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute. Chlebowski was part of the group who published some of the initial WHI results. "They are certainly free to come to somewhat different conclusions regarding the WHI estrogen-alone trial, but perhaps they should be clear regarding what 're-analyzed' means."

"The women who took estrogen alone all had a hysterectomy," said Dr. Susan Love, president of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. "The application of this study would not be as broad as the authors suggest because it would apply only to women who have had their uterus removed and are low risk for breast cancer."

Despite the conflicting messages, some women say they are willing to accept whatever cancer risk is associated with HRT in order to get relief from their menopausal symptoms.

Barbara Dehn, a San Francisco-based nurse practitioner in obstetrics and gynecology, has been on HRT for the past three years. Because she's a medical expert, she knows all the risks associated with her therapy.

"It helps, and it's made it so I can sleep reasonably," said Dehn, who is 52. "I get maybe one night sweat three or four nights a week, but that's much better than the 11 I used to get."

But the associated breast cancer risk is never far from her mind.

"Because my mammograms have been fine, I have no regrets about being on HRT, but I worry every time I have my mammogram."

Other women, like Ann Middleman of Long Island, N.Y., decided the risk -- whatever it is -- isn't worth it. She was on HRT for eight years, but when she learned from the 2002 WHI study that HRT is associated with increased breast cancer and also didn't protect against heart disease, she stopped the medication.

"In 2008, I found a small tumor in my breast that turned out to be malignant. Is there a connection? Who knows? But I won't be going back on HRT any time soon," said Middleman.

Dehn and other experts say while Ragaz's findings aren't new, the potential benefits of estrogen-alone therapy were overshadowed by the focus on the risks associated with combination therapy.

"It got ignored because we were focusing on the increased risk of estrogen plus progesterone," said Dehn.

"The publicity on hormone therapy has been so sensationalized and the risks so exaggerated that the view that any benefit can emerge from all of this has been lost to the public and mainstream medical profession," said Dr. Michelle Warren, professor of medicine at NY Presbyterian Hospital.


Other Experts See Promise in Current Findings

"This is interesting and provocative research that should lead to additional studies of the effects of E (estrogen) alone on the breast, and on breast cancer risk," said Dr. Seema Khan, co-leader of the breast cancer program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University in Chicago, in an e-mail.

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