Hormones and breast cancer: high risk, no alternatives

Should women use reproductive hormones? There is growing evidence of higher risk, yet little research is happening to study alternatives to oral contraception or HRT (hormone replacement therapy).

Why aren’t researchers and clinicians talking about the risks of continuous use of reproductive hormones by women throughout their life cycle?

More than a decade ago, a group of researchers revised their assessment of low risk to an increased risk of breast cancer for women over 60 years of age who had used HRT for more than ten years. Now, the same researchers have also identified an increased risk in women as young as 40 years and with as little use as one year.

In Western countries, many women use hormones for much, if not all, of their adult lives.  It starts with oral contraceptives when heterosexual women or girls become sexually active.  Like HRT, oral contraceptives, are based on hormones. Many women graduate from birth control pills to HRT when they hit menopause.

Worldwide, contraceptive use is increasing. In 2015, it was estimated that 950 million women, more than half the world’s female population, were using oral contraceptives. Add to that more than 600 million years of use of HRT in the world.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the world. Among postmenopausal women in Western countries. It accounts for about three-quarters of all cancer cases and deaths.

Why aren’t researchers and clinicians looking at the risks of this continuous use of reproductive hormones by women throughout their life cycle?  Nor is any attention paid to alternatives to hormone-based birth control or relief for the potentially debilitating discomforts of menopause that many women experience.

Of course, we know the answer.  Once again, women’s health takes a back seat in research interest and funding.

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