Hormone Replacement Therapy May Increase Lung Cancer Risk

New findings add to the list of unhealthy HRT side effects.

March 17, 2010

HRT is risky business; some women can control menopause symptoms with exercise or yoga.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), sometimes called hormone therapy, essentially replaces hormones that a woman's body no longer produces after menopause. Until a large-scale 2002 study on women found that HRT came with significant health risks (including blood clotting and breast cancer), it was the therapy of choice for women seeking relief from menopausal symptoms. Now you can add another possible health risk—lung cancer—to the list of dangerous HRT side effects, according to new research reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.


THE DETAILS: The recent study followed 36,588 women aged 50 to 76 for six years. In that time, 344 women developed lung cancer. Those who had used HRT for 10 years or more had a 50 percent greater risk of lung cancer than those who had never used HRT. In terms of actual numbers, 54 women developed lung cancer out of more than 4,300 long-term HRT users. Women who had used HRT for less than 10 years saw no significant increase in lung-cancer risk.

WHAT IT MEANS: Because of the newly confirmed risk, and because of HRT’s patchy history, lead researcher Christopher G. Slatore, MD, of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, recommends that women only use HRT in low doses. “And since we don’t know a safe length of time to use HRT,” says Dr. Slatore, “I’d recommend using it only for as long as is necessary to control menopausal symptoms.”

Beyond HRT, consider the following menopause management tips, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

• Talk to your doctor. Because menopause treatments and therapies are constantly evolving, it’s important to have a doctor you can trust to provide you the most up-to-date information.

• Try soy. Research has shown that soy food products may help with mild hot flashes.

• Consider phytoestrogens. These estrogenlike substances in plants can mimic the estrogen produced in the body, which may help your symptoms. Soy contains phytoestrogens, as do the herbs black cohosh, wild yam, dong quai, and valerian root. All these are available in supplement form.

• Try a new therapy. Bioidentical hormone therapy uses customized formulas containing hormones that are chemically identical to those made naturally in the body. Until more is known about this therapy, stick with the FDA-approved versions that are only available with a prescription. Ask your doctor about them.

• Stay active. Exercise can help keep your stress levels down, which in turn may reduce the incidence of hot flashes. Research has shown that yoga may be especially helpful in reducing menopausal symptoms.

See Prevention.com for advice on managing menopause, including diet, exercise, and the risks and benefits of hormone therapy.

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