February 24, 2015 | by Nicole White
Think twice before tossing out those hormone replacement pills. Although a new Lancet study suggests that hormone replacement therapy could increase a woman's risk of ovarian cancer, a City of Hope expert urges women to keep this news in perspective.
Hormone replacement therapy is prescribed to help alleviate symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats, that can damage quality of life in menopausal women. The University of Oxford study found that women who used hormone replacement therapy for less than five years after menopause had a 40 percent higher risk of ovarian cancer than other women.
However, while the statistical finding is an important one, the study was not designed to definitively show that the hormone therapy caused the increased ovarian cancer risk. No mechanism has been identified.
Robert Morgan, M.D., co-director of the gynecological cancers program at City of Hope, said that women do indeed face a slightly increased risk of ovarian cancer when using hormone replacement, but that the overall risk for the general population is very low. Over 21,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society, and over 14,000 are expected to die of the disease.
“The fact alone of a slight increased risk of ovarian cancer in women taking hormone therapy won’t, and shouldn’t, impact treatment decisions,” Morgan said in a HealthDay interview.
Taking hormone therapy for the shortest period possible and at the lowest effective dose is still recommended for minimizing breast cancer risk, because the longer the treatment is used, the higher the increased cancer risk.
The increased risk identified in the study amounts to one additional ovarian cancer diagnosis for every 1,000 women who take hormone therapy for five years from age 50, and one additional ovarian cancer death for every 1,700 women. Although the study authors believe that hormone replacement therapy contributed to the increased risk, they don't know exactly how it contributed.
The latest study is far from the only high-profile research about the potential risks of hormone replacement therapy. A Women’s Health Initiative study was halted in 2002, because researchers found an increased risk for heart attack, stroke and blood clots associated with hormone replacement therapy use. Since then, physicians have tempered their advice about hormone replacement therapy use, recommending that women take it for the shortest amount of time possible to relieve menopause symptoms.
But those symptoms can be significantly damaging to a woman's quality of life, doctors say, and should be taken seriously as well.
Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.