Study sheds encouraging light on estrogen therapy
March 28, 1996
Web posted at: 8:20 a.m. EST
From Correspondent Rhonda Rowland
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- For most women reaching menopause, it's tough choosing whether or not to take hormones. Some of the health benefits are clear cut, but a nagging question remains: Will estrogen increase the risk of breast cancer? A new study examining that question offers hope.
Pat Cervasio started taking hormone replacement therapy nine years ago to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. The decision was not easy for her.
"I think it took me about six months to make up my mind after reading everything I could get my hands on about it," Cervasio says.
Pat, and women like her, have to weigh the benefits, which include the easing of hot flashes and guarding against osteoporosis, against the possibility of developing breast cancer.
But the American Cancer Society has reassuring news. A study of more than 400,000 women -- the largest yet -- indicates that estrogen does not increase the risk of dying from breast cancer.
In fact, there was a slight advantage. "There was a 16 percent decrease in the risk of dying from breast cancer in women who have ever used estrogen from anywhere from one to 11-plus years," says Dawn Willis of the American Cancer Society.
This is also the first study to show women who start taking estrogen before age 40 have an even greater advantage than those who start later.
"It's clear to me after watching this for many years that women are functionally improved by taking estrogen; they have lower chronic disease rates, and if there's nothing seriously bad about it, I think this is very encouraging news for them," says Dr. Harmon Eyre with the American Cancer Society.
The study only looked at deaths from breast cancer, not the chances of getting it. Other studies suggest that women taking hormones have a slightly increased chance of developing breast cancer.
"Women who take estrogen are far more likely to be under a doctor's care," Willis says, "They will receive their yearly mammogram in order to get their prescriptions refilled so this right away puts them in a situation that if they do develop breast cancer it's going to be detected early." And at an early stage, breast cancer is at its most curable.
Although this latest study is encouraging, researchers still advise each woman to make her own decision about using hormones based on her personal health risks and fears.
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