Hormone Replacement Therapy Linked to Ovarian Cancers

A study from Oxford University has found a “significant” link between hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and some ovarian cancers. Women who have used HRT, even for just […]

A study from Oxford University has found a “significant” link between hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and some ovarian cancers. Women who have used HRT, even for just a few years, are at a 40 per cent greater risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who have never taken this treatment.

This research, published in the Lancet, analysed data from 52 different epidemiological studies, mapping information from 21,488 women with ovarian cancer using data from practically all available relevant epidemiological research. The increased risk they have discovered translates to one more case of ovarian cancer for every 1,000 women.

This risk decreased amongst women who had finished using HRT ten or more years before, but their risk was still somewhat higher than among non-HRT users.

HRT usually involves taking oestrogen or combined oestrogen and progesterone supplements, to alleviate the sometimes severe symptoms of the menopause. Its usage has a controversial history sometimes seen as framing menopause as a medical problem, rather than simply a natural process.

There is already evidence showing association between long-term HRT and ovarian cancer, with UK guidelines currently expressing this concern. The link between short-term usage, however, has not been realised before, because of the small size of relevant studies.

Professor Dame Valerie Beral, a co-author of the study, claims that the research “has implications for current efforts to revise UK and worldwide guidelines”. The World Health Organisation, for example, does not even recognised the link between long-term HRT usage and ovarian cancer in its advice.

With over one million women using HRT in the UK alone, co-author Sir Richard Peto holds concerns over current guidelines, claiming that it “simply isn’t true” to promote even short-term HRT as risk-free.

Katherine Hignett

About Katherine Hignett

Philosophy graduate, medical anthropology student.