Media Coverage Worries Women with Breast Cancer Risk and Hormone Therapy

Posted on October 21, 2010

October 2010 -- The New York Times and other news outlets have recently published news reports and opinion pieces based on a study about a possible link between hormone therapy and a very rare increased breast cancer death risk.

Please keep the following in mind:

  • Results from ONE study are not conclusive. Do NOT panic If you are a woman on hormone therapy (HT). You should continue treatment and return to your physician for regular follow-up care and undergo a HT evaluation every year.
  • Most studies do NOT show an increased risk of breast cancer death on HT; in fact, overall LOWER all cause mortality rates have been reported in women using menopausal HT for 5 or more years who start prior to the age of 60, and/ or within 10 years of menopause. For MOST symptomatic menopausal women, the BENEFITS of HORMONES outweigh the risks. There is NO time limit to feeling well.
  • If you are taking HT for bone treatment or prevention of bone loss, remember that discontinuing HT may lead to bone loss. Calcium and vitamin D are necessary, but alone are not a sufficient treatment option for osteoporosis.
  • Talk to your doctor about other prescription options for treating osteoporosis IF that is the only reason you are using HT.
  • Women taking vaginal estrogen for vaginal/urinary reasons do NOT need to discontinue HT based on the recent media report.
  • Women should NOT get their medical care from the media. Women (and their physicians) need to remember that the risks of using menopausal HT are generally in the RARE category and very SIMILAR in risk to other prescription medications regularly prescribed by physicians.
  • Women need to be aware that there are prescription therapies approved to reduce breast cancer risk in women at high risk (such as tamoxifen and raloxifene) for breast cancer. ALL women need to be aware of the potential health benefits of a healthy lifestyle including-no smoking, regular exercise, low-fat, heart healthy diets, adequate vitamin D levels, limiting alcohol consumption, AND maintaining lean body mass -- as these lifestyle modifications reduce the risk of cancer and the risk of premature deaths.

Holly Thacker, MD
Executive Director, Speaking of Women’s Health
Director, Center for Specialized Women’s Health, Cleveland Clinic