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No link between estrogen-only therapy, breast cancer in postmenopausal women

STANFORD, Calif. - There's a tangle of information about the pros and cons of using hormones to relieve the symptoms of menopause, but a new analysis of data generated by the Women's Health Initiative confirms that one cause of concern can be laid to rest: There is no evidence that taking estrogen alone increases the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

The findings come three years after a related WHI study found that a different type of hormone therapy - which combined estrogen and progestin - did result in a higher risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women.

Marcia Stefanick, PhD, a Stanford University School of Medicine researcher who oversaw the latest WHI findings, said she hopes the results provide some clarity.

"The clinical trial results for estrogen-alone and for estrogen-progestin are very different - WHI is not flip-flopping," said Stefanick, professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and lead author of the study to be published in the April 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. "The use of estrogen-progestin clearly showed an increased risk for breast cancer; estrogen-only therapy shows no evidence of an increased risk."

The WHI is a 15-year, broad-based look at the causes and prevention of diseases affecting older women. In addition to hormone therapy, other WHI studies have examined heart disease, breast and colon cancer, and osteoporosis.

For the estrogen-alone arm of the study, which was stopped in 2004, researchers tracked nearly 11,000 women nationwide for about seven years. The women were between the ages of 50 and 79, and had previously undergone a hysterectomy. Half of the women were given a form of estrogen known as conjugated equine estrogens, while the other half were given a placebo.

In the latest analysis, researchers found no evidence that estrogen increased the risk of breast cancer. The women taking estrogen had
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Contact: Susan Ipaktchian
susani@stanford.edu
650-725-5375
Stanford University Medical Center
11-Apr-2006


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