Published on: August 1, 2014
by Ashleigh Gleeson for The Herald:
Many women were still avoiding an important treatment option because of the belief it caused breast cancer.
Gynaecological endocrinologist Dr Barry Wren, the founding member of the Australian Menopause Society, spoke at the University of Newcastle about the need for further education surrounding menopause.
One major fear surrounding menopause – the end of the monthly cycle of menstruation in a woman’s life – is that hormone-replacement drugs (HRT) cause breast cancer. HRT use fell sharply after 2002 when the Women’s Health Initiative, a major US government research trial, was halted when researchers noticed an unexpectedly high rate of breast cancer and heart disease among women taking part.
Previously, it was the standard treatment for women with symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats.
“It was a very good study but it was inappropriately used, the information was presented in such a way that people got fear out of it rather than understanding,” Dr Wren said.
“I want to reduce this fear of cancer, it is unwarranted.
“For a breast cell to turn into a cancer cell requires anywhere between 150 and 200 genetic mutations.
“You don’t suddenly form those overnight; they begin to accumulate from the day you were born until they present themselves as an abnormal change to the cell.
“What HRT does is make the mutation grow faster and because of that, it’s picked up earlier, so women who are on hormonal therapy when it’s detected have a better chance of surviving – there are a 50 studies which show this.”
Dr Wren said there were also many other benefits from HRT – one being reducing the risk of dementia.
“Many people don’t realise that twice as many women die of dementia as men die of dementia,” he said.
“A lot of dementia is also affected by hormone therapy and lack of oestrogen.
“So, women who lack oestrogen have a higher incidence of getting dementia than men do.”
Dr Olga Ostrowskyj, from the Hunter Women’s Health & Menopause Centre, said they regularly saw women who wrongly believed that HRT caused cancer, sometimes on their GP’s advice.
“A lot of women say ‘I don’t want to go on it, I want natural medication’,” she said. “They ask is hormone replacement therapy going to cause breast cancer and the short answer is no.”