Despite previous concerns that HRT may raise the risk of certain types of cancer, a new study found that women with ovarian cancer who took HRT did not have raised health risks. In fact, HRT appeared to have a beneficial effect on survival.
"Years of research has shown that women taking HRT are at an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as endometrial cancer for some forms of HRT," said Fiona Osgun, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, in a press release. "This research takes a different approach and looks at women already diagnosed with ovarian cancer. These results are a great first step in helping to understand if HRT is safe to take for women with ovarian cancer, but we need larger studies with more women to confirm them. HRT has been shown to be effective at reducing symptoms of the menopause and there are many factors that play into a woman's decision to use it or not."
When women enter menopause, their hormone levels start to decline, which can lead to problems like osteoporosis, hot flashes and vaginal dryness. HRT, which uses female hormones like estrogen and progesterone, can help with these problems. But concerns about raised cancer risks and other health problems may keep some patients from opting for HRT.
Ovarian cancer is one of the most common cancers among women around the world, according to lead study author Rosalind A. Eeles, PhD, a professor at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and colleagues. The 150 patients in this study had epithelial ovarian cancer, which means their cancer began in the surface layer of an ovary. Some treatments for ovarian cancer are thought to trigger menopause onset.
Half of the patients in this study — who were recruited from 19 hospitals in the UK, Spain and Hungary — received HRT. The other half did not receive HRT. Dr. Eeles and team followed these patients for an average of just over 19 years.
At the end of this study, 29 percent of the HRT patients had survived. For the group that didn't receive HRT, that figure was just 9 percent.
HRT did not appear to raise the risk of dying from ovarian cancer — in fact, it may have actually decreased that risk, Dr. Eeles said in a press release.
"We were really happy to be able to show that HRT is safe for women with the most common type of ovarian cancer," Dr. Eeles said. "Whether or not to have HRT is a very important decision for a large proportion of women with ovarian cancer, who will often have to undergo the menopause due to the cancer treatment at the same time as coping with a cancer diagnosis."
This study was published Sept. 28 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation funded this research. Conflict of interest disclosures were not available at the time of publication.