Hormone therapy 'not such a big risk'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2003, 12:00am

The Department of Health says it will draw the attention of doctors to the findings in a recent study confirming a link between breast cancer and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is prescribed to ease menopausal symptoms among older women.

Women should consult their doctors as they had different risk factors, a spokesman said, adding that HRT was not recommended at public clinics and hospitals.

The Hong Kong College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the findings of the 'Million Women Study' released in British medical journal The Lancet last week was nothing new.

Spokesman Robert Law Chi-lin said the new study only reinforced last year's findings of the United States Women's Health Initiative that showed women who used combination HRT for more than five years increased their risk of developing breast cancer.

But he added: 'The risk is there but it is not as big as you think.'

According to The Lancet, the study - which involved one million British women aged between 50 and 64 from 1996 and 2001 - 'is the first to report an increase in risk of death from breast cancer for HRT users compared with women who have never taken the hormones'.

The research also 'provides strong evidence that use of combination HRT - oestrogen-progestagen - is associated with a substantially greater risk of breast cancer than oestrogen-only therapy', according to the journal.

Dr Law said women needed to balance the 'discomfort of menopause' and decide whether it was appropriate for them to take the combination HRT.

'It is important to note that short-term use of HRT is really safe and for people who have no uterus (due to undergoing a hysterectomy) and using oestrogen-only HRT the risk is less than taking the combination oestrogen-progestagen.'

The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong said HRT was useful in relieving symptoms and discomfort caused by menopause, including hot flushes and difficulty having sexual intercourse. 'The duration of treatment required for symptom relief is usually less than five years,' it said.

It advised all women using HRT to have regular health check-ups. Those who had concerns should consult their doctors or the association for more details.

More than 4,000 women have been prescribed HRT at the association's menopause clinics or under the HRT Shared Care programme jointly undertaken by the association other health-care organisations since April 1999.

The researchers said women needed to weigh the increased risk of breast cancer caused by the addition of progestagen against the lowered risk of uterine cancer.