Study: HRT increases breast cancer mortality


A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported in today's New York Times found that women with breast cancer who took hormone replacement therapy more than a decade ago have a greater risk of dying than breast cancer patients who never took HRT.

In 2002, the medical world and thousands of women were rocked by the discovery that HRT increased the risk of breast cancer and other diseases. The study that produced that data, the government-funded Women's Health Initiative, was halted immediately.

Now with 11 years of follow-up to study on the original participants, the authors of this new study conclude: "Estrogen plus progestin was associated with greater breast cancer incidence, and the cancers are more commonly node-positive. Breast cancer mortality also appears to be increased with combined use of estrogen plus progestin."

This disproves the suggestion made early on that HRT increased non-aggressive breast tumors and wouldn't affect mortality rates. Not so, according to the new study. In fact, postmenopausal HRT use appeared to be associated with greater spread to lymph nodes. And ultimately, those taking combined E+P HRT had a doubled risk of death from breast cancer alone, as well as an increased death from all causes.

And while far fewer women are taking HRT today than 10 years ago, we're all being exposed to environmental chemicals that mimic estrogens and otherwise disrupt our hormone systems.

We don't have the data — yet — to say whether postmenopausal exposure to BPA, for example, increases breast cancer incidence and mortality in the same way as HRT. But it does give us pause, and inspires us to keep pushing for limits on chemicals that we know are hormonally active.

Read our tips for making safer healthcare choices.


4 thoughts on “Study: HRT increases breast cancer mortality

  1. Inherited breast cancer disorders account for a small minority of breast cancers overall. Genes are the “messages” in each cell of the body that determine the ultimate design of our bodies. Genes can be damaged by the environment. Additionally, people can be born with defects in the genes that remove the body’s defenses against cancers. Only in about 10% of all breast cancer cases is there actually a genetic defect that can be tested. This means that 90% of breast cancers are due to other causes. In fact, most cases of breast cancer occur in women who do not have a family history of breast cancer.

  2. You are absolutely right; we need more research on the efficacy and possible health effects related to use of bioidentical hormones, especially given their growing popularity over the past few years. There are very few studies, and those that exist have somewhat contradictory findings regarding impact on breast cancer. On the other hand, differently aged women, different compounds of hormones, different duration of using hormone supplements…all make comparisons difficult.
    We are concerned that even taking bioidentical hormones extends the lifetime exposure of women to estrogens and progesterone, given the extensive data linking duration of hormonal exposure with risk of breast cancer. We also recognize that that there are differences in biological potency of various component estrogens, and that pharmacies and/or companies differ in their recipes for compounding the bioidentical hormone components.
    In short, we support inclusion of bioidentical hormones in ongoing studies of efficacy and health outcomes (positive and negative), especially for post-menopausal women using these compounds to address the symptoms of menopause.

  3. We need a study where the women participating have been taking bioidentical hormones. I am sure the results would differ.

  4. This article is talks about large doses of phony hormones that aren’t identical to women’s hormones. It’s up to each woman to make her choice. These articles whip up too much hysteria without telling all the facts.

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