Women were advised this week to think “very carefully” about taking. hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after evidence was published showing it had killed 1000 women in Britain since 1991 by increasing their risk of ovarian cancer.

HRT increases the risk of the disease: by 20%, the biggest in­vestigation of links between HRT and cancer has found.

Although the absolute risk is low, millions of women took HRT in the’ 90s, so the total impact is great: an extra 1 300 cases of the disease and 1 000 deaths between 1991 and 2005, according to the Million Women Study.

Previous results from the study have linked HRT with an in­creased risk of breast and womb cancer. The latest findings sug­gest HRT raises the combined risk of all three diseases by more than 60%, the researchers say.

Valerie Beral, director of the Cancer Research UK epidemi­ology unit at the University of Oxford, said: “The results of this study show that not only does HRT increase the risk of getting ovarian cancer-it also increases a woman’s risk of finding of ovarian cancer.”

The findings come from a study of 948 576 postmenopausal women, or a quarter of all women aged 50,64 in the UK. About a third of those in the study were taking HRT, and another fifth had taken it in the past.

HRT RAISES THE COMBINED RISK OF THREE CANCERS BY MORE THAN 60%

The women were followed for an average of more than five years for signs of ovarian cancer, and seven years for death. Dur­ing the follow-up period a total of 2 273 women developed ovarian cancer and 1 591 died from it.

These results imply that the use of HRT- of whatever sort­ increased the risk of developing and dying from ovarian cancer by 20%, the team reports in the online version of The Lancet.

To put the findings in perspec­tive, they mean that over five years there is likely to be one extra case of ovarian cancer among ev­ery 2 500 women receiving HRT, and one additional death for every 3 300 women on the therapy.

HRT is used to combat un­pleasant symptoms of meno­pause, including hot flushes, vaginal dryness and night, sweats, It was promoted strongly by doctors in the ’70s, and many women claimed it had trans­formed their lives. But in recent years numbers have plummeted after a series of health scares.

John Toy, the medical director of Cancer Research UK; said:

“Considering this alongside the increases in risk for breast and endometrial cancer, women should think very carefully about taking HRT. Women who choose to take HRT should aim to do so for clear medical need and for the shortest possible time.”

 

·         Breast cancer rates in the US have dropped sharply for the first time since 1987, after the HRT scare of 2002. A new analysis of cancer data shows the decrease has been sustained for a second year, strengthening the suggestion that it is due to women giving up HRT. – © The Times, London