According to a large study in Denmark that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), hormone replacement therapy (HRT) definitively increases the risk of ovarian cancer and was estimated to be responsible for 5 percent of ovarian cancer cases in the study.
The medical profession says that if women use an estrogen-only HRT for 10 years or longer, they are at increased risk of getting ovarian cancer in the future. But the JAMA study said that it doesn’t matter what type of HRT is used or how long it is used for -- any HRT increases the risk of ovarian cancer.
The study, which was nationwide across Denmark, involved nearly 910,000 women aged 50-79 without hormone-sensitive cancer.
The women were followed from 1995 to 2005 to see how many of them would develop ovarian cancer. Among these women, 3,068 ovarian cancers were diagnosed and of those 2,681 were epithelial cancers.
Current and previous users of HRT were found to have an increased incidence of ovarian cancer compared with non-users.
The risk of getting ovarian cancer also decreased with years since last use, so the greater the time interval since women last took the medication, the less likely they were to get it.
It also didn’t seem to matter which types of hormone combinations were used, how they were administered or how long the women took them for. The risk was the same.
Hormone therapy is estimated to have resulted in 140 extra ovarian cancer cases in Demark during the study, or 5 percent of the cases.
The research authors stated that although this figure may seem low, the death rate for ovarian cancer is high, so the extra risk should be taken into consideration before deciding to use HRT.
Ovarian Cancer Statistics
In the United States, an estimated 22,280 women will be diagnosed in 2012, with 15,500 women losing their lives. (3)
In the U.K. in 2008, 4,400 women died from ovarian cancer, which means on average that one British woman dies every two hours. (2)
Ovarian cancer is the number one gynecological killer and the fourth most fatal cancer in the U.K. Only 40 percent of women with ovarian cancer are still alive five years after diagnosis.(2)
This is why it is so important to identify risk factors and try to minimize them.
Alternatives to HRT
Falls in estrogen associated with menopause can cause symptoms such as vaginal dryness and painful intercourse, mood swings and hot flashes. Some women find these symptoms distressing or disruptive to their everyday life and so wish to try HRT or an alternative.
The NHS said that most women do not need HRT and that treatment should only be given if symptoms are severe.
They recommend regular exercise, reducing stress levels and avoiding trigger foods as alternatives to HRT. Spicy food, caffeine and alcohol can all trigger hot flashes. Wearing lighter clothing and not having too much bedding can also help prevent them.
Ways to de-stress include getting more sleep, going for regular walks or swimming and employing relaxation techniques such as yoga.
If you’re struggling to sleep you can improve your chances of a good night’s sleep by going to bed at the same time every night and not doing anything strenuous within two hours of your bedtime.
In addition to avoiding caffeine, alcohol and spices, there are certain foods you can eat to reduce your symptoms. Over 300 plants contain estrogen and if they are consumed on a regular basis they can have a mild estrogenic effect on women and may help relieve troublesome menopausal symptoms.
These are some of the foods that contain natural estrogens:
• Soy beans and soy bean sprouts
• Cereals and some bread
• Various beans
The Hysterectomy Association suggested taking a multi-vitamin supplement that includes calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones (fractures are more common after the menopause) and vitamin B6, which may help alleviate symptoms. Essential fatty acids can also be obtained through evening primrose oil.
1. Risk of Ovarian Cancer from Hormone Therapy Confirmed, National Cancer Institute. Web. 10 October 2012.
2. Hormone therapy and ovarian cancer, JAMA. 2009 Jul 15;302(3):298-305.
3. Ovarian Cancer, National Cancer Institute. Web. 10 October 2012.
4. Ovarian Cancer Facts and Figures 2011, Ovarian Cancer Action. Web. 10 October 2012.
5. Menopause, NHS Choices. Web. 10 October 2012.
6. Menopause – Self-Help, NHS Choices. Web. 10 October 2012.
7. Alternatives to HRT – dietary supplements, The Hysterectomy Association. Web. 10 October 2012.
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/
She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and has an A grade diploma in Neuro-psychological Immunology, which is the study of how the mind affects the immune system.
Reviewed October 10, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith