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HRT and breast cancer

Women who have been prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) should always follow their doctor’s prescription instructions. This becomes even more important for women dealing with breast cancer. Yet many women decide to take matters into their own hands and either fail to follow their prescription or stop taking HRT altogether. What compels some women to stop taking the very mediation that is prescribed to help them?

A recent study printed June 28, 2010 in the online Clinical Journal of Oncology shows some alarming trends with breast cancer patients and HRT. Shockingly, around half of the women who participated in the study did not complete their HRT. This puts their recover from breast cancer in serious jeopardy.

Breast cancer and tamoxifen
The study looked at 8,769 women who were prescribed the drug tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors (or both) following surgery (both lumpectomy and mastectomy), chemotherapy and radiation. These drugs help to both reduce breast cancer recurrence rates and increase survival rates for those with breast cancers brought on by hormonal (usually estrogen) imbalances.

Ideally, these women should be taking their HRT for a period of 4 ˝ to 5 years. But the study found that women were either not taking their medications as they should be or even ending their HRT treatments long before they should stop. Only 49% of these patients followed their HRT prescriptions and for the proper length of time. But disturbingly:

*32% stopped taking HRT completely
*19% did not follow their doctor’s instructions for taking HRT

Why would these women decide to play doctor and adjust their medication by themselves? Finding show that women between the ages of 55 and 65, women who are married, and women with longer prescription fill times (60 or 90 days compared to 30 days) were mostly likely to do as their doctors said.

But younger women, particularly women under the age of 40 were less likely to follow their doctors’ orders, as were women over age 65. Additional results show women with shorter prescription fill times (30 days) and women dealing with other health problems were putting their recoveries at risk by not following their HRT prescriptions. Among women who underwent surgeries for breast cancer, those women who had lumpectomies were also more likely to stop the treatment.

The study is the launching pad for researchers to find connections between HRT therapy, not taking HRT properly and the recurrence of breast cancer and resulting mortalities because of the disease. But a few other questions beyond the scope of the study challenge our assumptions as we explore the following possibilities in the second part of this article.


Research material and reference to the study provided by Women’s Health Matters: www.womenshealthmatters.ca and click under ‘news’ June 2010.

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