A new analysis of the groundbreaking federal Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study has revealed that hormone replacement therapy (HRT), even when taken over short periods of time, is linked to breast cancer. The Associated Press (AP) reports that taking HRT for as little as five years doubles one’s risk of developing breast cancer. The WHI looked at the effect of hormone medications on the prevention of heart disease, bone loss, and other problems specific to post-menopausal woman.
Hormone therapy drugs like Premarin, Prempro, Premphase and Provera are used to treat the hot flashes and other symptoms that accompany menopause. The drugs have been linked to breast cancer by various studies. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Prempro and Premarin, faces more than more than 5,000 lawsuits filed by and on behalf of women who blame the drugs fro their breast cancer.
Accoring to Time/CNN, the new WIH findings are “the most dramatic evidence yet of the dangers of these” medications, noting that when women took estrogen and progestin pills for short periods, they still experienced an increased risk of developing cancer. The study did find that once the women discontinued the therapy their prognosis improved, falling to a normal risk about two years after stopping the therapy, said Time/CNN.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the WHI was a 15-year research program, consisting of a variety of clinical trials and studies that was launched in 1991 and involved 161,808 healthy post-menopausal women; the women were generally in their 60s and past menopause. The WHI trials were developed to look at the effects of a variety of issues relative to this population, including HRT. The hormone trial consisted of two studies. One was an estrogen-plus-progestin study of women with a uterus and the other was an estrogen-only of women with no uterus. The studies were ended early; however, the women involved in the original initiative continue to participate in a follow-up that is expected to last until 2010. Time/CNN reported that the study was halted in 2002 when researchers noted an unusually high risk of cardiac problems and breast cancer in hormone users.
Since the WHI was initiated, experts have long argued about the risks that affect women who begin HRT upon entering menopause—which usually takes place as women enter their 50s—and going on HRT for short time frames, said Time/CNN.
The AP reported that the results of the new study clearly indicate that HRT risks are, in fact, greater than the benefits and noted that the recent drop in breast cancer rates see, to be linked to a decline in HRT use, according to Dr. Rowan Chlebowski of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. Also, the AP, quoting Dr. Claudine Isaacs of Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, reported that Isaacs said, in response to the new results that, “It’s an excellent message for women: You can still diminish risk (by quitting), even if you’ve been on hormones for a long time, it’s not like smoking where you have to wait 10 or 15 years for the risk to come down.” The recent study analysis was discussed this weekend at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, said the AP.
The Wall Street Journal stated that the research team reviewed the point at which breast cancer occurred, noting that the risk increased when hormones were initiated and declined following HRT cessation.