Is Less Hormone Replacement Triggering a Drop in Breast Cancer?

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In 2003 something very positive happened. There was a steep decline in the number of U.S. women who developed breast cancer. From the year before, there was a seven percent overall decline in breast cancer, which is a significant drop. Researchers discovered the biggest decline among women in their 50s and 60s, specifically with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer.

 That is an important detail for the following reason: Estrogen-positive tumors are triggered and fueled by the hormone estrogen. And the scientists, who are from the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer, believe part of the reason for this amazing drop in breast cancer could be that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is being used far less often than it was before.

 The fact that this drop occurred in 2003 feeds this possibility — that the contentious treatment could really, after all, be implicated in raising the risk of breast cancer. HRT is a therapy that pumps estrogen and sometimes progestin into women’s bodies after menopause. In 2002, however, a huge study, called the Women’s Health Initiative, rocked the medical world, as it suggested that this hormone combination could increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

 This study was halted right away and caused confusion and much debate about whether or not the link was true. Yet further analysis showed that HRT, which is used to relieve symptoms of menopause, could also raise the risk of heart disease and stroke. Based on these findings, the number of women taking HRT dropped. Near the start of this decade, 30% of women over 50 were taking HRT. After 2002, half those women stopped taking it.

 So we come to the findings of 2003 and it all seems rather clear. There was a major drop in new breast cancer cases, particularly estrogen-positive tumors, after the use of HRT went way down. These are only “population statistics” but the link certainly seems telling. So are the numbers. There were 14,000 fewer breast cancer patients in 2003 than in 2002, the biggest drop the researchers have ever seen.

 They “indirectly infer” that one of the reasons is HRT used less often. Tumors that are estrogen-positive will stop growing if there are fewer hormones to feed it. It’s like the source of the tumor’s fuel is being cut off.

 All of this is a serious revelation considering the controversy that flowed over HRT after the study came out. Postmenopausal women might be interested in these results, and bring them up with their doctor.