October is breast cancer month; time to evaluate breast health

October is breast cancer awareness month, which makes it a perfect time for women currently taking or considering taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), to assess their breast health.

For years, HRT was considered the cure-all for menopausal symptoms that range from hot flashes and riding the emotional roller coaster to bone loss and osteoporosis. But a 2002 study by the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) and funded by the National Institutes of Health stopped women and their doctors in their tracks when the research revealed that the risks of HRT far outweighed and outnumbered the benefits. The WHI report stated that long-term use of estrogen/progestin therapy led to a 26 percent increase in breast cancer, not to mention a laundry list of other serious side effects.

The American Cancer Society suggests women talk with their own doctors before deciding whether HRT is right for them. The organization also suggested women heed the advice of the WHI, which includes not continuing or starting HRT to prevent heart disease; to discuss their risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer before taking HRT for osteoporosis prevention; and to perform regular breast self-exams and schedule annual mammograms.

Using HRT for the short-term may be a safer alternative, the report states, however, “Given these results, we recommend that clinicians stop prescribing this combination for long term use. ‘Primum non nocere’ [First, do no harm] applies especially to preventive health care.”