Menopause

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Are You at Risk?

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A woman holding her chest.It’s time to think pink, ladies. October is breast cancer awareness month!  For women who are using hormone therapy to treat their perimenopause and menopause symptoms (I’m in that group), breast cancer awareness is more than just one month out of the year. Because there is no doubt, hormone therapy puts women at risk for breast cancer.

But, how much of a risk? And are all hormones dangerous? What about bioidentical hormones? Are they safer than synthetic hormones? Can progesterone cause breast cancer, or is it just estrogen?

I don’t have iron-clad, 100-percent-fool-proof answers to these questions, because, frankly, there aren’t any. And unfortunately, much like our dysfunctional Congress, the medical community is always fighting too. Some are against bioidentical hormones, and some are against synthetic hormones. 

Who’s right?  Who’s wrong? Well, I can’t tell you that either. 

But, what I can do, is present the “least shrill” and the most reasonable and measured information I can find, and then let you ladies decide for yourself how you feel about hormone replacement therapy.  

What Did the Women’s Health Initiative Study Tell Us about Hormone Therapy?

For women who are currently in the perimenopause and menopause age range (about 40 to 60), the Women’s Health Initiative study has been the most influential piece of medical research in our lives. Because of this study, women are now more concerned about hormone replacement therapy than ever before.  

But why?

What did the Women’s Health Initiative tell us that we didn’t know before? Well, depending on who you ask, it ruined our love affair with estrogen therapy. But, if you just want the Cliffs Notes version of the results of the study, here they are:  

Premarin (synthetic estrogen) when combined with Progestin (synthetic progesterone) (aka, Prempro), put some of the women in the study (average age of 63) at a higher risk for breast cancer, blood clots, and stroke.

Since then (about 13 years now), medical professionals have been struggling to find their “estrogen sea legs” as it were; it’s been game on as proponents of bioidentical hormones have been slugging it out with proponents of synthetic hormones. 

If you follow these medical "slug-fests" as I tend to do, the most commonly heard battle cry is that there is no “medical evidence that proves bioidentical hormones are safer than synthetic hormones.” Which, if you ask me, doesn’t really answer any questions. It simply creates more. Like, “Okay, but, do bioidentical hormones cause breast cancer?” 

In the limited research I have done on this topic, I have never turned up anything which says definitively that bioidentical hormones cause breast cancer. I’m not saying it’s not out there.  I’m saying I’ve never been able to find it.

But I have run across several pieces of credible research and articles which at least address a lot of these questions, such as this piece by Harvard Medical School in their “Harvard Medical Publications.” 

Personally, I think this article gives enough information about synthetic hormones, bioidentical hormones, and the Women’s Health Initiative Study that you should be able to answer the questions first posed in this blog post for yourself.

I don’t necessarily agree with some of the implicit suggestions in the article, and there is certainly a heaping helping of condescending “snark” in the piece as well. But, “hey” (as Uncle Si says), I’ve also been known to dole out healthy portions of it myself.

It’s still a good article, in my opinion, and hopefully, it can help clear up any confusion some of you might have regarding the risks associated with hormone replacement therapy.

Magnolia Miller is a certified healthcare consumer advocate in women's health and a women's freelance health writer and blogger at The Perimenopause Blog.

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Tags: Hormone Therapy , Hormones

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About the Author

Magnolia is dedicated to empowering women to take responsibility for their own health.

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