A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia has shown that from 2001 to 2003 there was a 40 per cent decrease in the number of Australian women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and a 6.7 per cent reduction in the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer, equivalent to 600 fewer cases.
Director of the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre Dr Helen Zorbas said this is the first time there has been a downward trend in the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia after 20 years of steadily increasing rates of the disease.
“The good news is that the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia in 2003 is on par with the incidence rates experienced back in 1997,” said Dr Zorbas.
“While a drop in HRT usage rates has occurred over the same period it cannot be said that this has directly caused the decrease in breast cancer rates. There may be other factors which could be contributing to this decrease in breast cancer incidence.”
Dr Zorbas said the study findings are in keeping with the known increased risk of breast cancer associated with increasing duration of combined HRT use.
“In real terms this means that for every 1000 women in their 50s taking HRT over five years, there will be an additional four women diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Dr Zorbas.
“This increase in breast cancer risk appears to decrease back to the level of non HRT users within a few years of stopping the treatment.
“This study does not change current advice to Australian women regarding the use of HRT for the short-term relief of menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Women should be aware that there are both benefits and risks associated with the use of HRT.
“Women who are considering starting HRT should discuss their decision with their general practitioner based on their individual background risk, the severity of menopausal symptoms and the success of other treatments. Women who are currently taking HRT should review their needs every six to 12 months, in consultation with their GP.
“While HRT is an effective short-term treatment for the relief of menopausal symptoms, it is not recommended for the prevention of conditions such as osteoporosis or heart disease,” said Dr Zorbas.
*Results from the Women’s Health Initiative study published in July 2002 showed an increase in risk of breast cancer associated with combined HRT use.
National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre is funded by the Australian Government and works with consumers, health professionals, cancer organisations, researchers and governments to improve care and cancer control in breast and ovarian cancer.
National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre