In the latest study to challenge the safety of postmenopausal hormones, National Cancer Institute scientists today report that women who take estrogen are more likely to develop ovarian cancer than those who don’t.
And the longer women take estrogen, the greater their ovarian cancer risk, the study found. Women who took estrogen at least 20 years had more than triple the risk of women who had not taken it.
Just last week, the government announced it halted a study comparing estrogen plus progestin with a placebo. The study was stopped more than three years early because the risks, namely breast cancer, outweighed the benefits of taking the hormones.
The new study, in The Jo urnal of the American Medical Association, found no increased ovarian cancer risk in women taking estrogen plus progestin. But the authors said the combination, taken by about 6 million women who have not had a hysterectomy, is relatively new, so it might be too soon to tell whether it is linked to ovarian cancer. About 8 million U.S. women take estrogen only.
The researchers followed 44,241 women who had participated in a nationwide breast-cancer screening program. The women had decided on their own whether to go on hormones. They were followed from 1979 to 1998 with phone calls and questionnaires about their health and hormone use.
A study by American Cancer Society researchers last year reached a similar conclusion about estrogen use. Ovarian cancer, one-tenth as common as breast cancer in the USA, will claim 13,900 lives this year.
“Our results reiterate what we’ve been hearing for years, and especially over the last week: Women need to talk to their doctors about risks and benefits and whether hormones might be right for them,” says epidemiologist James Lacey Jr., lead author of the latest study.
In an accompanying JAMA editorial, Tufts University OB-GYN Kenneth Noller writes: “Estrogen replacement therapy certainly is not the panacea it once appeared.”