More bad news for women taking hormone replacement therapy
Erin Allday, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Original story at

(03-04) 13:21 PST SAN FRANCISCO -- Women who take estrogen and progestin hormones to ease symptoms of menopause face a risk of breast cancer even after they quit taking the pills, according to research revealed today.

In fact, these women run a higher risk of developing not just breast cancer, but any type of cancer, researchers said.

The study results, released in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are troubling news for women and doctors, who had hoped that the risks of hormone replacement therapy faded once women stopped taking the drugs.

"I personally think that women should only go on menopausal hormone therapy if they have severe symptoms," said Dr. Marcia Stefanick, a professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and a senior author of the study. "Of course if they have severe symptoms, they should consider hormones because it's still the best game in town. But they should really think about whether they're so bad off that they want to start something that comes with all these risks."

There are two types of hormone therapy: estrogen-only and combined estrogen and progestin. The new research applies only to women on combined hormone therapy.

The new research was part of the Women's Health Initiative, a large study of post-menopausal women that was halted in 2002 when women on combined hormone therapy showed an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and breast cancer. The heart disease risk was later found to be negligible in younger women who started treatment at the onset of menopause.

The Women's Health Initiative involved 16,608 participants who were taking combined hormone therapy or a placebo for an average of 5.6 years. Of the 16,608 original participants, 15,730 were followed for an average of 2.4 years after the trial ended.

While on the hormones, women had a 26 percent higher risk for breast cancer than participants taking placebos. Two and a half years after stopping the drugs, the risk of developing breast cancer was 27 percent higher for those women than for participants taking placebos.

Women on hormone therapy also had a 24 percent greater risk of developing any type of cancer.