Hormone replacement therapy poses a risk for women to develop breast cancer. This risk is only a little higher, but many women undergoing the therapy will worry a lot more about abnormal mammograms or decide to have breast biopsy which they could avoid under different circumstances.
Mammography and breast biopsy examinations proved to be not so reliable at diagnosing breast cancer among those women taking hormones, which counteract symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and excessive dryness in the vagina.
The study, conducted by Women's Health Initiative in 2002 polled over 16,000 women between 50 and 79 years of age. The breast cancer incidence among women undergoing the hormone therapy (estrogen and progestin) was found projecting to an additional one in 1,000 occurrences as opposed to women taking an inert placebo.
A previous research on the subject showed that the hormone replacement therapy increases breast tissue density, which could complicate the detection of cancerous tumors. The present study has not examined the factor, though.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a system of medical treatment for surgically menopausal, perimenopausal and postmenopausal women, based on the assumption that it may prevent discomfort and health problems caused by diminished circulating estrogen and progesterone hormones. The treatment involves a series of drugs designed to artificially boost hormone levels. The main types of hormones involved are estrogens, progesterone or progestins, and sometimes testosterone.
HRT is available in various forms. It generally provides low dosages of one or more estrogens, and often also provides either progesterone or a chemical analogue, called a progestin. Testosterone may also be included. In women who have had a hysterectomy, an estrogen compound is usually given without any progesterone, a therapy referred to as "unopposed estrogen therapy". HRT may be delivered to the body via patches, tablets, creams, troches, IUDs, vaginal rings, gels or, more rarely, by injection. Dosage is often varied cyclically, with estrogens taken daily and progesterone or progestins taken for about two weeks every month or two; a method called "sequentially combined HRT" or scHRT. An alternate method, a constant dosage with both types of hormones taken daily, is called "continuous combined HRT" or ccHRT, and is a more recent innovation. Sometimes an androgen, generally testosterone, is added to treat reduced sexual desire/(libido). It may also treat reduced energy and help reduce osteoporosis after menopause.
HRT is seen as either a short-term relief (often one or two years, usually less than five) from menopausal symptoms (hot flashes, irregular menstruation, fat redistribution etc.) or as a longer term treatment to reduce the risk of osteopenia leading to osteoporosis. Younger women with premature ovarian failure or surgical menopause may use hormone replacement therapy for many years, until the age that natural menopause would be expected to occur.
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