Researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have found that women in a large study who used estrogen replacement therapy after menopause were at increased risk for ovarian cancer. The report was published in the July 17, 2002, issue of JAMA.* The scientists followed 44,241 women for approximately 20 years. Compared to postmenopausal women not using hormone replacement therapy, users of estrogen-only therapy had a 60 percent greater risk of developing ovarian cancer. The risk increased with length of estrogen use. The women, who were followed from 1979 to 1998, were former participants in the Breast Cancer Detection Demonstration Project, a mammography screening program conducted between 1973 and 1980.
"The main finding of our study was that postmenopausal women who used estrogen replacement therapy for 10 or more years were at significantly higher risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who never used hormone replacement therapy," said James V. Lacey, Jr., Ph.D., lead author of the study from NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics.
The relative risk for 10 to 19 years of use was 1.8, which translates to an 80 percent higher risk than non-users, and increased to 3.2 (a 220 percent higher risk than non-users) for women who took estrogen for 20 or more years.
Every year, about 23,000 U.S. women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 14,000 women die from the disease. A woman’s lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer is 1.7 percent. This means that in a group of 100 women followed from birth to age 85, fewer than two would get ovarian cancer. In comparison, about 13 women would get breast cancer (lifetime risk is 13.3 percent), fewer than three women would develop uterine cancer (lifetime risk is 2.7 percent), and between 16 and 32 women would develop osteoporosis.
An estimated 40 million U.S. women will experience menopause during the next 20 years, and women today are living approximately one-third of their life after menopause.
Anywhere from 20 percent to 45 percent of U.S. women take some form of hormone therapy between the ages of 50 and 75. According to industry estimates, about 8 million U.S. women use estrogen alone and about 6 million U.S. women use estrogen-progestin therapy. About 20 percent of hormone users continue for more than five years.
NCI Press Office | EurekAlert
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