Women get reminder about HRT risks

For decades, women were frequently given drugs in a treatment plan dubbed “hormone replacement therapy” (HRT) to relieve symptoms associated with menopause. The demand for HRT treatment declined, as did the incidence of breast cancer in many countries, when, starting in the late 1990s, a series of research reports – including the famed US Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study of 2002 – linked HRT to osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, dementia, and breast cancer.

Yet, as soon as the media lost interest in the topic, women (and their doctors) seemed to forget the side effects and risks involved with HRT and prescription rates are creeping up once again.

Hopefully, news of the recent McMaster University research will once more raise the awareness of this dangerous drug intervention. In their study, the McMaster researchers found “convincing evidence” for a direct association between decreased HRT use after the WHI study and the declining incidence of breast cancer. Their research appears in the January 2012 issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

“The evidence is compelling that HRT use increases the risk of breast cancer, and its cessation reduces this risk,” the researchers said.

Dr. Kevin Zbuk, assistant professor of oncology at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster and lead author on the study said: “In our study we examined all studies that have reported breast cancer and rates of HRT use after the WHI study. There is very clear evidence that the countries with the highest HRT rates had the largest decrease in breast cancer incidence when HRT use started to decline.

“Given the potential harms associated with HRT use,” Dr. Zbuk continued, “physicians and patients alike should be reminded of the lessons learned from the WHI trial. If HRT is needed, it should be used for the shortest time and at the lowest dose necessary to relieve symptoms.”

Someday, medical researchers will take a really bold step and suggest that such drugs shouldn’t be used at all, or at least only in the rarest of cases. Non-medical approaches such as chiropractic, phytoestrogens, herbal remedies, yoga, energy therapies, and meditation have all been shown to be effective in many women.