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.