Doctors clash over risks of hormone replacement therapy after study found it raises breast cancer risk by a third
- New study suggests that one in 20 cases of breast cancer are caused by HRT
- NHS watchdog announced it will review guidelines for menopause treatment
- Doctors say the ‘irresponsible’ research may cause women to now abandon HRT
Doctors last night encouraged women to keep taking HRT after the NHS watchdog announced it will review guidelines for menopause treatment.
A bombshell Oxford study yesterday revealed that hormone replacement therapy increases the risk of breast cancer by a third – more than double previous estimates.
But it sparked a row as doctors claimed the ‘irresponsible’ research may cause women to abandon HRT treatment –reducing their overall health and increasing their risk of developing other life-threatening illnesses.
The study by Oxford University, published in the Lancet, prompted medical watchdog NICE to announce a review into its advice for the treatment of menopause symptoms.
The new study, which analysed results from 58 trials following more than 500,000 women, suggests one in 20 cases of breast cancer – around 3,000 a year in the UK – are caused by HRT [File photo]
A NICE spokesman said: ‘We will be reflecting on this study’s findings and considering it in our final decision as to whether we will update our menopause guideline, a decision on which we will publish in due course.’
Existing NHS guidelines, last updated in 2015, encourage doctors to prescribe HRT and say twice as many women could benefit as currently do. Debate over the safety of HRT has raged since 2002, when its link to breast cancer first emerged.
The new study, which analysed results from 58 trials following more than 500,000 women, suggests one in 20 cases of breast cancer – around 3,000 a year in the UK – are caused by HRT.
It also found for the first time that risk persists for at least ten years after treatment is ceased.
Doctors last night encouraged women to keep taking HRT after the NHS watchdog announced it will review guidelines for menopause treatment. A bombshell Oxford study yesterday revealed that hormone replacement therapy increases the risk of breast cancer by a third – more than double previous estimates [File photo]
But experts say the benefits of HRT in relieving debilitating symptoms – including night sweats, depression and hot flushes – outweigh the risks.
Yesterday Professor Michael Baum, a breast cancer specialist from University College London, led the backlash, saying he wanted to reassure HRT users.
He claimed the research was ‘appalling’ as it did not take into account the benefits of HRT in preventing other illnesses including dementia and osteoporosis.
He said: ‘I speak with the authority of someone who has looked after people with breast cancer for 40 years. My mother died of breast cancer, my sister has breast cancer. I have seen lots of women with breast cancer in a desperate state because they are denied HRT.
Why cancer alert won’t put me off
Breast cancer survivor Beverly Ellis resisted taking HRT for more than a decade because she feared it could cause the disease to return
Breast cancer survivor Beverly Ellis resisted taking HRT for more than a decade because she feared it could cause the disease to return.
But last year the 60-year-old decided she could no longer put up with her debilitating menopause symptoms and started using oestrogen gel.
The decision ‘transformed’ her life and Mrs Ellis says she will continue taking HRT despite the new evidence showing a raised cancer risk.
The pet carer, from Tamworth, Staffordshire, said: ‘Within just one week of using HRT, everything changed. It was as if the hot switch had been flicked off – the sweats literally went. I feel so much happier and much more confident in my outlook and approach to life.’
Mrs Ellis was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 at the age of 43 and had surgery and radiotherapy.
She started the menopause four years later and her symptoms included drenching sweats that stopped her going to work and leading a normal life.
She added: ‘For more than a decade I thought HRT wasn’t a viable option for me… It’s a minimal risk, I could die of something else or get run over. Today is for living and for me it is worth the risk.’
‘Some of the diseases that can be prevented by HRT carry a greater risk for women of dying than breast cancer. If you deny women HRT, they are more likely to die of problems like osteoporosis, fractures, heart disease, dementia.’
The oncologist added it was ‘totally inappropriate’ of the Oxford team to publish the study without referring to both the number of deaths from breast cancer caused by HRT, and the number of deaths that could be prevented by HRT.
Researchers said women aged 50 to 69 were 32 per cent more likely to get the disease if they had taken the most common form of hormone replacement therapy for at least five years.
It means for every 100 women who take oestrogen and daily progesterone, eight will get breast cancer rather than six. The risk is twice as high for those treated over a decade.
Author Professor Valerie Beral said: ‘We are concerned many GPs say it’s not something you need to worry about. We want GPs to quote the reliable figures.’
Dr Julie Sharp, of Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, said: ‘Women have to know the risks of which type of HRT they take and how long they take it for to decide what’s right for them.’
And Dr Hilary Jones, a GP and presenter, said: ‘Let’s put this in perspective, is there a great risk? No. The risk of drinking two or three glasses of alcohol a day is an equivalent risk.’
Haitham Hamoda, of the British Menopause Society, added that the findings were in-keeping with the NICE guidelines showing ‘a small increase’ in breast cancer risk with HRT.
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