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Tuesday, 20 March, 2001, 16:40 GMT
Long term HRT use 'doubles cancer risk'
Researchers have linked HRT to ovarian cancer
Researchers have linked HRT to ovarian cancer
Women who take hormone replacement therapy for over ten years double their risk of ovarian cancer, say researchers.

But American researchers stressed the risk is still low, increasing from just one to two per cent over a lifetime.

They say women should still take the drug for its acknowledged short term benefits, and only need take care if taking it for a long time.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) looked at 211,581 postmenopausal women who were taking oestrogen replacement therapy.

The key finding is that women who used postmenopausal oestrogen had twice the risk of dying from ovarian cancer as women who never take them

Dr Carmen Rodriguez,
American Cancer Society
The women were followed from 1982 to 1996.

The researchers, from the American Cancer Society found women who used hormone replacement therapy for less than ten years had no increased risk.

The team also found those who used HRT for a long period, but stopped, saw their risk decrease.

Dr Carmen Rodriguez who led the research, said: "The key finding is that women who used postmenopausal oestrogen had twice the risk of dying from ovarian cancer as women who never take them."

'Short-term benefits'

Women who have been through the menopause take HRT to combat the symptoms associated with the lack of oestrogen, including osteoporosis and heart disease.

In the past, studies have shown that taking oestrogen can also increase a woman's risk of endometrial cancer.

Long term use has also been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

The women in the study were not taking progesterone along with the oestrogen.

Progesterone helps "dampen the effect" of a lack of oestrogen.

Dr Rodriguez said: "We don't know what that addition of progestin [progesterone] to the oestrogen will do to the ovarian cancer risk.

"It may happen, as with endometrial cancer, that the risk goes down, or it may happen, like with breast cancer, that the risk is higher.

She said of her research: "I think the recommendation is as unclear as it was before; I don't think this study changes anything.

"There is no contra-indication for a short-term use of hormone replacement therapy and it really is going to improve your quality of life.

"The problem is when you decide you are going to take it for 10 or more years and that is when you start to get into a non-easy decision."

A spokesman for the Cancer Research Campaign said: "It's not a huge increase of risk.

"This is quite a large study over a good period of time."

The study is published in a special women's health edition of JAMA.

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