Hormone replacement therapy: use sparingly!

Recently published studies appear to confirm that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk of suffering from certain types of cancer. We also know that HRT is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.

Recently published studies appear to confirm that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk of suffering from certain types of cancer. We also know that HRT is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.

A new study seems to confirm that HRT increases the risk of breast cancer in menopaused women. In fact, an American study has demonstrated that in the United States, the prevalence of breast cancer decreased by 9% between 2001 and 2004, but only in women over the age of 50. This period corresponds to the beginning of a controversy surrounding the use of HRT in the treatment of menopausal symptoms. At that time, more than a third of the menopaused women had aborted their hormonal replacement therapy. The culprit appears to be the estrogen in HRT that contributes to certain cancerous tumours sensitive to this particular hormone.

A second study concludes that HRT slightly increases the risk a woman has of suffering and dying from ovarian cancer. To reach these conclusions, researchers followed close to 100,000 menopausal women between 1991 and 2005. Ovarian cancer is the fifth cause of cancer deaths in the country.

In Quebec, between 30 and 35% of menopausal women rely on HRT. This percentage decreases to between 15 and 20% in the rest of Canada. HRT is usually recommended to relieve moderate to severe hot flashes brought on by menopause, along with the insomnia that ensues for some women. In fact, HRT does not slow down the ageing process.

Many lifestyle changes such as regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy body weight and quitting smoking all help relieve symptoms associated with menopause. There are also other medications that can help control hot flashes for women who are excessively bothered by these symptoms and who cannot rely on HRT for relief. Local treatments are suggested for women suffering from vaginal dryness that typically occurs at menopause.

For those who cannot forgo HRT, it is recommended the treatment be as short as possible and be given at the lowest possible dose, sufficient to relieve symptoms.

If you have any worries or questions on this subject, do not hesitate to speak with your family physician, gynaecologist or pharmacist. Remember that each woman is unique and your needs can be very different from those of your girlfriends!

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