Breast Cancer and HRT

17th May 2023

Posted by Dr Michelle Wright

Today, as promised, I’m staying on the subject of hormones, specifically HRT – hormone replacement therapy – and the latest information on breast cancer risk where that is concerned.  

Now, I remember when I was a young GP – I’m showing my age here – there was a big study by the Women’s Health Initiative that basically condemned HRT as something evil because of the associated health risks, particularly breast cancer and cardiovascular disease: heart attack and stroke. Doctors stopped prescribing HRT for many women and some women stopped taking their medication.

However, since then, the evidence has been re-examined, and new research has been published, showing that the benefits of HRT generally outweigh any risks for most women. 

So, thinking specifically about breast cancer risk. We’ve already said that women in Switzerland have a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of breast cancer – that’s regardless of whether they’re taking HRT.  

Obviously, there are certain things that can increase your risk: if you’re overweight, if you smoke, or if you’re physically inactive. And also, if you have a family history of breast cancer – especially if you carry one of the BRACA breast cancer genes.  

What the latest evidence shows us is that for women who have gone through the menopause early, up until the age of 51, there’s no increased breast cancer risk if you take HRT. Essentially, you’re replacing what your body is lacking. And in fact, your health risks are greater if you don’t take HRT because of the impact of a lack of oestrogen on your cardiovascular system, your brain and your bones to name but a few.  

In fact, it seems that the effects of some of the lifestyle risk factors that I mentioned are actually greater than the risk of taking HRT for women of any age.  Listen on to find out more.

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