A new study analyzing breast cancer rates has confirmed that postmenopausal women who take hormone replacement pills (synthetic estrogen plus progestin) for more than five years nearly double their risk of getting breast cancer. This new study, out of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, reviewed the results of two earlier studies by the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) involving more than 56,000 women. The first of those studies administered HRT to women; the second simply tracked women who voluntarily took HRT anyway. The previous studies had found that HRT leads to a 62 percent increase in risk of stroke, up to a 35 percent increased risk of heart disease, and a 66 percent increased risk of getting breast cancer.
Because of the profound health risks discovered, the first WHI study was stopped three years before scheduled completion (it originally was supposed to end in 2005 but was halted in 2002). Within a year of discontinuing HRT, the number of new breast cancers among the subjects declined by 28 percent. In the second, voluntary study, 50 percent of the subjects stopped HRT, and that was reflected in a 43 percent drop in new breast cancers. Plus, when news got out to the public, women stopped taking HRT in huge numbers, and again, breast cancer rates plummeted.
But in spite of the nearly undeniable congruence between HRT use and disease risk, many in the medical establishment claim that the reduction in breast cancer has more to do with the fact that the subjects in the study got more frequent mammograms than women in the general public, and that fewer mammograms leads to fewer detected cancers. They claim that declining breast cancer rates in the general public also can be attributed to the general decline in mammogram frequency. (No one ever said doctors were necessarily logical. And in fact, in a display of even greater illogic, those same doctors happily promote the role of medicine and doctors in the decline in the incidence of breast cancer over the last couple of years -- an interesting conundrum to be sure.)
On the other hand, the newly released study concluded that the "fewer-mammograms-leads-to-fewer-cancers" argument is hogwash. In an article just published in The New England Journal of Medicine, lead researcher, Dr. Rowan Chlebowski wrote, "The increased risk of breast cancer associated with the use of estrogen plus progestin declined markedly soon after discontinuation of combined hormone therapy and was unrelated to changes in frequency of mammography. The difference in frequency of mammography use of 2 percent between 2002 and 2003 for women using hormones is insufficient to account for the 43 percent reduction in the incidence of breast cancer."
In the end, the study concluded that women can sharply reduce their risk of breast cancer by discontinuing HRT. According to WHI research director Dr. Marcia Stephanik: "You start women on hormones and, within five years, their risk for breast cancer is clearly elevated. You stop the hormones and within one year, their risk is essentially back to normal. It's reasonably convincing cause-and-effect data."
Incredibly, in spite of the almost indisputable evidence that HRT causes cancer and that mammogram frequency plays no role, some still dispute the link -- most notably, the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the stuff. According to a spokesperson for Wyeth, the company that manufactures one of the leading HRT pills, "We don't believe the article supports the theory that the decline in use of estrogen plus progesterone caused a one-time abrupt nationwide decline in breast cancer incidence. If this was the case, then we should be seeing further reductions in breast cancer rates because the rates of HRT use continue to fall, but we aren't seeing this."
Not all physicians are convinced, either. The International Menopause Society (great name), for instance, disputed the report claiming that breast cancer takes 10 years to develop, so cancers resulting from HRT use would just now be showing up. And the director of the Society, Dr. David Sturdee (and why does a man head the Menopause Society?) says that, "Once-malignant breast-cancer cells are not so hormone-dependent that they can immediately revert to a benign or pre-malignant state." But Dr.Chlebowski counters, "It has nothing to do with long-term development. It is completely consistent with cancer treatment -- just like oophorectomy in pre-menopausal women, which changes the hormone mix and makes cancers go away."
Other doctors note that since the study found a risk associated only with HRT use of five or more years, plus a negligible risk after discontinuation, short-term use is still okay. But as Dr. Barbara Mintzes of the University of British Columbia points out, "If you know something is carcinogenic, why would you take it for four years instead of five?"
It seems inconceivable that given the evidence, medical professionals still would argue in favor of prescribing these drugs -- and, yet, as many as 20 million women still do take them. But then again, the medical establishment cheered as more than 60 million women in the US alone signed up for the treatment annually prior to 2002. Any female patient over the age of 50 walking into virtually any doctor's office at that time surely heard about the wonders of HRT -- how it would make her zippy and sexy and free of menopausal symptoms.
Makes you wonder why anyone would listen to these guys -- doctors and the pharmaceutical companies. The alternative health community has been saying for many, many years that hormone replacement therapy with artificial hormones increases the risk of breast cancer. Chalk one up for the good guys! And given that track record, who does it make more sense to listen to?