Even After Stopping HRT, Risks Linger

A higher risk of cancer is seen even in women who have stopped hormone therapy.

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 10:45 AM

March 4, 2008— -- CHICAGO (AP) - The first follow-up of a landmark study ofhormone use after menopause shows heart problems linked with thepills seem to fade after women stop taking them, while surprisingnew cancer risks appear.

That heart trouble associated with hormones may not be permanentis good news for millions of women who quit taking them after thegovernment study was halted six years ago because of heart risksand breast cancer.

But the new risks for other cancers, particularly lung tumors,in women who'd taken estrogen-progestin pills for about five yearspuzzled the researchers and outside experts.

Those risks "were completely unanticipated," said Dr. GerardoHeiss of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, leadauthor of the follow-up analysis.

The analysis focused on participants' health in the first two tothree years after the study's end. During that time, those who'dtaken hormones but stopped were 24 percent more likely to developany kind of cancer than women who'd taken dummy pills during thestudy.

"There's still a lot of uncertainty about the cause of theincreased cancer risk," said analysis co-author Dr. JoAnn Manson,chief of preventive medicine at Harvard's Brigham and Women'sHospital.

The cancers included breast tumors, which also occurred morefrequently in hormone users during the study.

The researchers noted that the increased risks for all cancersamounted to only three extra cases per year for every 1,000 womenon hormone pills, compared with nonusers.

Still, Heiss said the results suggest that former hormone usersneed to be vigilant about getting cancer screening includingmammograms.

"Vigilance is justified," he said. "No alarm, butvigilance."

The initial study of 16,608 postmenopausal women was designed toexamine pros and cons of taking pills long thought to benefitwomen's health. It was halted in 2002 when more breast cancers,heart attacks and related problems were found in hormone usersversus nonusers.