July 14, 2009 04:49 PM ET | Deborah Kotz
The decision whether or not to use hormone therapy to relieve menopausal symptoms just got a bit more complex. For some menopausal women, taking a combination of estrogen and progesterone (or estrogen alone for women who have had hysterectomies) is the only way to get relief from sleep-disrupting night sweats and hot flashes. But they’re also warned about the increased risk of breast cancer associated with hormone use—a risk that becomes significant after women have been on hormones for more than five years. Now a new study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows an association between hormone use and ovarian cancer—and it kicks in almost immediately after women begin taking hormones.
In the study, which culled the health records of nearly 1 million Danish women, researchers found a 38 percent greater risk of ovarian cancer among women who were currently taking hormone therapy. The risks didn’t appear to be affected by the types of hormones women were taking, the dose, the duration, or whether they were taking estrogen alone or a combination of estrogen and progesterone. Women who previously took hormones, however, can rest easy: “Our data suggests their risk of ovarian cancer is similar to never users after two years cessation,” writes study author Lina Morch, an epidemiologist at Copenhagen University, via E-mail.
What’s more, the actual increased risk of ovarian cancer is very low. The study found one additional ovarian cancer for every 8,300 women taking hormone therapy each year. That comes out to about 140 extra cases of ovarian cancer in Denmark over the study period of eight years. Still, “even one case of cancer is one case too many,” says Isaac Schiff, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who is familiar with the study. He said the statistical association was weak but probably real. (Previous research has also found a link between hormones and ovarian cancer.) Unknown, though, is whether taking hormones can actually trigger ovarian cancer. “Women who take hormone therapy tend to be monitored more closely by their doctors,” he explains, “so diagnoses of ovarian cancer may be made more frequently in this group.”
Comment from Leslie
Synthetic hormones disrupt the natural production of hormones. Synthetic hormones – just like synthetics in the environment can cause cancer. This is becoming more and more clear and obvious. It is common sense.