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Study: Link Between Estrogen Therapy and Ovarian Cancer Unclear

Women given estrogen-only therapy after menopause may be at higher risk for ovarian cancer suggests a study published by James Lacy of the National Cancer Institute, the New York Times reported today. “While the data from these observational studies do not establish causality, the association between estrogen use and ovarian cancer should be worrisome enough for clinicians to consider carefully whether to suggest estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy,” said Dr. Kenneth Noller of the New England Medical Center in Boston.

“While this study points to a causal relationship between estrogen and ovarian cancer, further study is required,” stated Dr. Beth Jordan, medical director for the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Startling lapses in research exist in women’s health. We need to see an increase in research dollars allocated for women’s health issues. A women’s health bill is currently being debated in Congress. Clearly, this recent study is further evidence that we need more well-designed, randomized placebo-controlled studies to further determine if the medical and surgical treatments we currently offer women for various conditions are safe and effective.”

Randomly controlled studies are considered more accurate than observational studies, according to Dr. Jordan. Nearly 13.5 million women in the United States currently use hormone replacement therapy to treat menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and osteoporosis. Last week, the largest study of hormone replacement therapy in post-menopausal women was stopped abruptly by the government because of a slight increase in the risk of invasive breast cancer. This study looked at drug therapies that use a combination of both estrogen and progestin – used by 6 million women in the US. However, there was no increased risk of breast cancer found for women taking estrogen-only hormone replacement therapies.

Sources:

New York Times 7/17/02; MSNBC.com 7/17/02; Reuters 7/17/02; Feminist Majority 7/17/02