HRT still raises risk of cancer years after treatment finishes

HORMONE-replacement therapy continues to increase the risk of cancer long after a woman stops treatment, new research revealed yesterday.

The study found that the risk of breast cancer in a group of patients taking part in a clinical trial remained 27 per cent higher three years after they stopped using HRT.

The chances of them developing any type of cancer was also 24 per cent above average. However, the risk of blood clots and strokes was reduced.

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Last night, experts said the latest study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, added more weight to evidence that women should only take HRT for as short a time as possible to help them deal with menopausal symptoms.

In 2003, the UK's "Million Women Study" highlighted a doubling of the breast-cancer risk among HRT patients on treatment for several years, leading to new advice for patients to limit use wherever possible.

The latest study involved women who had taken part in another major trial in the United States, which first alerted the world to possible dangers associated with HRT in 2002.

The Women's Health Initiative (WHI) recruited 16,608 healthy post-menopausal women who were either given a combination oestrogen/progestin hormone-replacement treatment or a placebo.

Researchers stopped the trial early in July 2002, after it had been running for around five years, when they discovered a significantly increased risk of breast cancer and heart and artery disease in women on HRT.

The women were advised to stop taking HRT. Almost 16,000 trial participants were then monitored for a further three years to see what effect ceasing treatment may have had.

After stopping HRT treatment, the risk of heart attacks, strokes and blood clots reduced again. However, the increased risk of breast cancer HRT users experienced during the WHI trial remained at about the same level, even after they stopped using HRT.

During the follow-up study, there were 63 more diagnoses of cancer among former HRT users than among women who did not have the treatment – three per 1,000 participants per year.

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Professor Marcia Stefanick, one of the authors of the study, from Stanford University in California, said: "The continued increased risk of breast cancer clearly plays a role in the increased overall risk of cancer, years after stopping long-term oestrogen plus progestin therapy, and it is important that we continue to follow these women."

Dr Leslie Ford, from the US National Institutes of Health, which funded the WHI, said: "The hormones' effects on breast cancer appear to linger. These findings reinforce the importance of women getting regular breast exams and mammograms, even after they stop hormone therapy."

And Dr Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK's senior information officer, said: "This significant study adds to the evidence that women should only take HRT specifically to treat symptoms of the menopause, and for as short a time as possible.

"Women who are taking HRT and are concerned about their risk of cancer should speak to their doctor."


THE heart of the average middle-aged Briton is five years "older" than its owner because modern lifestyles make it age faster, dramatic new figures show.

And for hard-living men in their forties the difference is up to 14 years using the same calculation which means a 46-year-old man could have the heart of a 60-year-old because of bad habits.

The findings, from tests on 3,000 adults aged up to 60, suggest a potential heart attack time bomb among the country's fortysomethings in particular.

Heart health checks were conducted on customers to branches of high street chain Lloyds pharmacy. The results were analysed using a method developed by Boston University and the company Unilever. It showed the average person aged 60 or under has a "heart age" five years older than their actual age. For non-smokers the difference is just two years, for smokers it is 14 years.

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However, men fare worse than women. The average male non-smoker in the study was 45, but his heart age was 49. For male smokers the average age was 53 but with a heart age of 68.

The Heart Age method was developed by the Statistics and Consulting Unit of Boston University, leading experts in identifying the rises of heart disease. It involves looking at a range of factors for each person, including readings for blood pressure and cholesterol and details of their own diet and lifestyle.