Women are being urged to study the risks of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) following the release of a new Oxford University Study.
The analysis of 52 separate studies that included 21,500 women with ovarian cancer found an extra case of the disease for every 1,000 women who underwent HRT for five years from the age of 50.
Cancer charities have welcomed the research and have stressed how important it is that women speak to their GPs and study the risks of HRT - which is effective at reducing the symptoms of menopause - before deciding to choose the treatment.
An estimated 7,000 UK women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer annually, resulting in around 4,300 deaths each year.
Previous research has already shown that women using HRT for more than five years are at an increased risk of contracting ovarian cancer. This new study however shows there is also a link to the disease for women using the treatment for shorter lengths of time.
HRT is taken in the UK for between two and five years generally and although the risks are reduced for those undertaking the treatment for shorter periods of time, they clearly still exist.
The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – which has always stated that “the lowest effective dose of HRT should be used for the shortest possible time” – has said it will now examine the findings. It is crucial these findings are properly evaluated so that the implications for shorter term use of HRT are crystal clear and product information can be updated.
At present, around 1 million women in the UK have HRT and an estimated 1,000 will contract ovarian cancer as a result. Although the increased risk of breast cancer due to HRT is well documented, the drugs are also known to reduce the risk of bowel cancers and osteoporosis.
This news could prove extremely worrying for women who may have been on HRT for a significant amount of time and haven’t previously been given any information in regard to breast cancer or ovarian cancer risk.
It is important to acknowledge however, that many women suffer severe menopausal symptoms and some would prefer to weigh up their quality of life alongside any possible risks from their treatment.
Although this study reveals a risk to women on HRT for short periods of time, it is a modest increase on a relatively uncommon cancer. The risk of contracting breast cancer due to HRT would I imagine be a far more important consideration than ovarian cancer.
Having said that, everyone is different and some women will be at an increased risk of contracting ovarian cancer due to their family history and the inheritance of some cancer risk genes.
The decision to undertake HRT should always be made jointly between a patient and her doctor and should take a number of considerations into account including the woman’s age and family history, her need for treatment and any medical risk factors involved.
Stephen Jones is a Senior Clinical and Medical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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