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Menopause and Hormone Replacement Therapy: Read This Before You Consider It

Menopause & Aging Well

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I just received an email from a reader in Idaho, Doreen. She wrote, "I'm 52 years old and just started full-blown menopause. I'm getting a ton of hot flashes, day and night, and I'm so moody all the time. I am very health conscious and generally shun any medications but am so tempted to ask my doctor for hormones! But I'm reading so many studies about their danger. Can you share any recent information?"

I can certainly feel Doreen's pain. When I went through this a few years ago, I was miserable. I couldn't wear sweaters - even on the most frigid days of the winter (I'd always been a person who was always cold, but found myself reaching for t-shirts all year round and keeping the heat so low in the winter that even my husband complained - and he likes it cold!) In fact, it took about four years before I could put a sweater back on (now I'm back to being cold all the time). And my moods? Totally out of control. As tempted as I was to take hormones, I had to stay away from them since I had breast cancer in the past.

If you take, or are considering taking, hormone replacement therapy to treat hot flashes and other annoyances of menopause, you may want to take note of this new study just reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Danish researchers who studied 900,000 women between 50 and 79 found that in those who took HRT after menopause, there were 140 extra cases of ovarian cancer linked to that treatment over the course of eight years. Women who took HRT had a 38% increased risk of getting ovarian cancer than those who didn't. There was also a 44% increased risk of cancer that begins on the outer lining of the ovary, known as epithelial ovarian cancer.

The 5% of the women that this represents might not sound so significant, but because of the lethal nature of this type of cancer, doctors are taking this seriously enough to caution against HRT. The American Cancer Society estimates that there were be 21,550 new cases of ovarian cancer in 2009, which ranks fifth as the cause of cancer death in women. Ovarian cancer is more common in white women than in African American women, affecting approximately two-thirds of women over the age of 55.

This isn't the first mark against taking HRT, either: the Women's Health Initiative study in 2002 found that the risk of ovarian cancer- as well as breast cancer and strokes - were increased in women on hormone therapy.

Also in the news on HRT is a spice by the name of circumin. The breast cancer risk that was found to rise in women taking a combination of estrogen and progestin could, according to University of Missouri researchers, be reduced by taking this popular Indian spice.

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