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HRT And Breast Cancer: The Confusion And Debate Continue

A new analysis of long-term data from the Women’s Health Initiative confirms what we already knew the first time around: Use of combination hormone replacement (HRT*) is associated with a small, but real, risk of breast cancer. This new 11-year followup data carries that knowledge out to its not unexpected conclusion — namely, that some (although not most) breast cancers can be fatal, and therefore the the use of HRT can increase breast cancer mortality.

While it may seem a bit of a “duh,” this study was, in fact, necessary to quell the WHI critics who continued to argue that the breast cancers caused by HRT were somehow less aggressive than those occurring off HRT (which they are not.) It was also a wake-up call for many women who were continuing to use HRT and thinking that somehow its risks did not apply to them. A fair number of these women appear to be coming off of HRT, at least in my practice. Others are staying the course and accepting the risks as they have been defined. Either of which is fine with me.

The spin going on around this study — both for and against HRT use — is tremendous and ultimately confusing to women. The pro-HRT crowd (some of whom have relationships to Pharma) is using language like: “The increased risk from using HRT for five years is the same as if your menopause occurred five years later,” which is technically true, but so what?  The bioidentical hormone crowd (usually also selling the same) are using the study to further hype how their regimens are safer than the evil Big Pharma products — based on no data. Which leaves the rest of us to try to find ways to help our patients understand the risks, place them into perspective for themselves, and make a decision about how and if to treat their menopausal symptoms. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at tbtam*

Latest Interviews

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Latest Book Reviews

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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