When examining breast cancer prevention, I feel that it is extremely important to talk about the association between hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer. Although there is a clear correlation between the use of hormone replacement therapy and increased risk of breast cancer, modern medicine feels that there is not enough evidence to demonstrate cause and effect.
Pause for Menopause
Menopause is the period in a woman’s life when the body produces less female hormone, estrogen, and the ovaries stop releasing eggs. You can also go through menopause if the female reproductive parts are removed from the body, what's called a hysterectomy. As a result of this many women experience some symptoms associated with menopause, including hot flashes, night sweats and osteoporosis.
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Hormone Replacement Therapy, or HRT, is prescribed to women that have intolerable symptoms of menopause. There are two main types of HRT: estrogen progestin therapy (EPT) and estrogen therapy (ET). EPT contains estrogen and progestin and is given to women to increase estrogen in the body. The progestin is added and given to women that have not had a hysterectomy, to protect the uterus and uterine lining from the harmful effects of the estrogen. ET only contains estrogen and is given to women that have had a hysterectomy.
The link between HRT and Breast Cancer
In a society and culture that is already Estrogen Dominant, of course increasing estrogen is going to increase your chances of breast cancer and that is exactly what hormone replacement therapy is doing: increasing estrogen in the body. Hormone Replacement therapy is clearly linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and severely increases your chances of dying from breast cancer. EPT raises your risk by 75%, even if you are only using it for a short period of time and women that took EPT were 2 times more likely to die from breast cancer. ET has been shown to increase your risk of breast cancer only if it is taken for more than 10 years. If taken for 10-14.9 years your risk of getting breast cancer increases 22% and if it is taken for more than 15 years your risk increases 43%.
Breast cancer survivors that took HRT for menopause had 3 times as many breast cancer reoccurrences than breast cancer survivors that didn’t do HRT. Some forms of chemotherapy cause women to enter into early menopause and because of this association between HRT and breast cancer reoccurrences, it has prevented many specialists from recommending HRT to breast cancer survivors.
A Testimonial from a Survivor
The information listed below isn’t scientific research and some people may not find it important in the evidence against hormone replacement therapy. But it is the account of a woman who is a cancer survivor, the opinion of a woman who tried HRT and was then diagnosed with breast cancer. I feel that it is important to talk to survivors and hear their story. In the end, I feel that we all just want our stories to be heard.
Julia, had a mammogram in September of 2008, which showed some specious signs but after having a core needle breast biopsy, doctors said there was no sign of cancer. In December of 2008 she began hormone replacement therapy and by the following April, 5 months later, she was diagnosed with a breast cancer, having a 1 inch tumor in her right breast. Not only did she receive no warnings from her doctor about the risks associated with HRT before she began treatments but once she was diagnosed with breast cancer they failed to inform her that she should stop the HRT immediately. Julia feels that cancer cells may have been present before doing the hormone replacement therapy but by taking HRT it caused the cancer to grow at an accelerated speed. Julia is now cancer free and strongly advises against HRT for anyone considering the treatment.
Menopause and Yin Deficiency
Not every woman in the world experiences symptoms of menopause and the incidence and severity of symptoms varies among different cultures. This leads me to believe that the “symptoms” of menopause are something that can be avoided. Cultures that eat diets high in Phytoestrogens appear to experience fewer symptoms of menopause.
The Chinese believe that the symptoms associated with menopause clearly show signs of a Yin deficiency. Yin is the energy that cools and moistens the body. When it is deficient the body starts to heat up. This isn’t real heat; it’s just a lack of the cooling mechanism causing false heat. A more accurate symptom picture is as follows:
- Symptoms: night sweats, hot flashes, afternoon fever, 5 Hots (hot or sweaty hands, feet and sternum), dry mouth and throat, dark yellow urine and dry stool.
- Tongue: red with little coating.
- Pulse: thread and rapid.
Herbs are a great way to help tonify Yin and diminish the symptoms associated with Yin deficiency and menopause. Listed below are some herbs that may be helpful:
- Ophiopogon Root (Mai Men Dong) Ophiopogon japonicas
- Anemarrhena (Zhi Mu) Anemarrhena asploidis
- Wolfberry aka Gogi berries (Gou Qi Zi) Lycium chinense
- Artichoke (Chao Xian Ji) Cynara scolymus
- Chickweed (Yin Chai Hu) Stellaria media
- Nettle Urtica diotica
- Irish Moss Chondrus crispis
- Marshmallow Althaea officinalis
The good news is that once you stop HRT, your risk of getting breast cancer will decrease and eventually return to baseline. I feel that the risks of hormone replacement therapy outweigh benefits especially when more natural treatments can help diminish the symptoms associated with menopause.
Cohen, B. J., Taylor, J. J., & Memmler, R. L. (2009). Memmler's structure and function of the human body (9th ed.).
: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott William & Wilkins. Baltimore, MD
Weed, S. S. (1996). Breast cancer? Breast health!: the wise woman way.
: Ash Tree Pub. Woodstock, N.Y.
Just for Health School of Reflexology and Healing Arts class notes 2010-2011