Study Supports Correlation between Hormone Replacement Therapy and Cancer

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The Million Women Study is a study, conducted by UK researchers, of women's health analyzing data from more than one million women aged 50 and over. It is a collaborative project between Cancer Research UK and the National Health Service (NHS), with additional funding from the Medical Research Council (UK). The study has abundantly fulfilled its aims of illuminating the answers to crucial questions about factors affecting the health of women in this age group as its collaborators continue their frequent contributions to prestigious medical journals of what has become an impressive series of landmark medical papers.

Eaton Scientific Systems Ltd. CEO, Michael Borkowski, says that "the Million Women Study, is both alarming and important to the need for non-hormonal treatments like Eaton's Tropine 3 in dealing with pre-menopause, menopause and peri-menopause symptoms affecting millions of women in the US and around the world who do not want to risk using hormonal treatments because of their potential relationship with cancer."

One key focus of the study relates to the effects of hormone replacement therapy use on women's health. The study has confirmed the findings in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) that women currently using Hormonal Replacement Therapy ("HRT") are more likely to develop breast cancer than those who are not using HRT.

Results from the Million Women Study, together with those of the WHI trial from the USA, have influenced national policy, including recent recommendations on the prescribing and use of hormone replacement therapy from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and from the Commission on Human Medicines.

The Million Women Study is a multi-center, population-based prospective cohort study of women aged 50 and over for routine breast cancer screening in the UK. Between 1996 and 2001, women were invited to join the Million Women Study when they received their invitation to attend breast screening at one of 66 participating NHS Breast Screening Centers in the UK. At these centers, women received a study questionnaire with their invitation which they were asked to complete and return at the time of screening. Approximately 70 percent of those attending the program returned questionnaires and agreed to take part in the study, which represented over one in four women in the UK in the target age group. The Million Women Study is the largest study of its kind in the world.

HRT and Breast Cancer

Follow-up of over one million women in the Million Women Study confirmed findings from other recent studies that women currently using HRT are more likely to develop breast cancer than those who are not using HRT. Past users are not at increased risk. The study was able to show that this effect is substantially greater for combined (estrogen-progestagen) HRT than for estrogen-only HRT; and that the effects were similar for all specific types and doses of estrogen and progestagen, for oral, transdermal and implanted HRT, and for continuous and sequential patterns of use. Current users of estrogen-progestagen HRT were at two fold increased risk of developing breast cancer, and current users of estrogen-only HRT at 1.3 fold risk. Use of HRT by women aged 50–64 in the UK in the decade from 1993-2003 resulted in an estimated 20,000 extra breast cancers.

HRT and Endometrial (womb) Cancer

It is well known that post-menopausal women who have not had a hysterectomy are at increased risk of cancer of the endometrium (the lining of the womb) if they take estrogen-only HRT. Follow up with over 700,000 women in the Million Women Study confirmed this and showed that the risk of endometrial cancer is also increased in women who take tibolone; but is not altered, or may even be reduced, in women taking combined estrogen-progestagen HRT. These effects depend also on a woman's body mass index (BMI, a measure of obesity) such that adverse effects of tibolone and estrogen-only HRT are greatest in thinner women, and the beneficial effects of combined HRT are greatest in more obese women.

HRT and Ovarian Cancer

Results of the study show a small increase in risk of ovarian cancer in women taking HRT. Such an increased risk had been suspected from previous studies, and has now been confirmed with the larger numbers available in this study. The findings come from analyses on 948,576 post-menopausal women, with 5 years of follow up. Women currently taking HRT were at higher risk of developing and of dying from ovarian cancer than women not using HRT. Past users were not at increased risk. The risk in current users was increased about 1.2 fold; for every 1000 women using HRT, 2.6 developed ovarian cancer over five years, compared with 2.2 in those not taking HRT. The risk was the same for estrogen-only, combined estrogen-progestagen and other types of HRT (including tibolone) and did not vary by specific type of estrogen or progestagen, or between oral and transdermal (patch) administration.

These results are equivalent to one extra case of ovarian cancer for every 2500 women taking HRT, and one extra death from ovarian cancer per 3300 women taking HRT, over five years. Publishers of these studies say that the results need to be looked at in the context of the other risks and benefits of HRT. In particular, an estimation of the overall effect of HRT use on three common cancers in women: breast cancer, endometrial (womb) cancer, and ovarian cancer. Together, these cancers account for about four in 10 cancers in women in the UK. According to the findings, in women aged 50–69, about 19 of these cancers will develop over five years in every 1000 women not taking HRT. In women taking HRT the estimate is for the number of cancers to be increased to approximately 31. The overall increased risk is higher in women using combined estrogen-progestagen HRT than in women using estrogen-only HRT because most of the overall increase is due to an increase in breast cancer, and users of combined HRT have a higher risk of breast cancer than users of estrogen-only HRT.