Drop in Hormone Therapy Leads to Cancer Decline A decrease in hormone use by women has led to a decline in breast cancer cases, according to new research published in The New England Journal of Medicine this week. While there are alternatives to hormone replacement therapy, some can do little for women with severe symptoms.
NPR logo

Drop in Hormone Therapy Leads to Cancer Decline

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/9692286/9692287" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Drop in Hormone Therapy Leads to Cancer Decline

Drop in Hormone Therapy Leads to Cancer Decline

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/9692286/9692287" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

For answers, we turn to Doctor Deborah Grady. She's a professor of medicine specializing in hormone therapy and menopausal symptoms at the University of California at San Francisco. She joins us now from San Francisco. So glad you're with us.

DEBORAH GRADY: Thank you.

NORRIS: So what are the alternatives for menopausal women, especially those who have severe symptoms? What are their options?

GRADY: If you're a woman who has very bad symptoms and you can't work and you can't sleep, to have a drug that really fixes those symptoms is really, really a lot of benefit. And the risk that you're trading off there as an individual is really small. The risk of developing breast cancer is less than one in a thousand per year. That, however, is quite different from a public health prospective where - because menopausal symptoms are so common, what we wind up is many millions of women in the United States taking hormone therapy. And because of that, even if the risk is very small, hormone therapy can lead to the development of many thousands of breast cancers.

NORRIS: Doctor, what about herbal therapies?

GRADY: Women have also tried preparations, such as black cohosh and other Chinese herbal preparations. Unfortunately, there's not good evidence that any of those work very well.

NORRIS: What about bio-identical hormones?

GRADY: Bio-identical hormones is a term for hormones that are compounded in pharmacies - not sold by drug companies. These, in my view, are quite dangerous, because we don't know how they're compounded. The control of the dose and the formulation is not overseen by the FDA. And these are estrogens. These are estrogens just like prescription estrogens. So clearly, it can cause all of the same side effects.

NORRIS: What if you're someone who is presently taking hormone therapy, despite the published risks. How do they transition off that?

GRADY: And one way to taper is to just to stop the hormone therapy - let's say on the weekend. That cuts down the dose by two-sevenths. And some symptoms may occur. But if the woman then waits a month or a couple of months until those symptoms improve, then she could potentially drop off Friday, let's say. And in that way, over multiple months, be able to taper down and stop the hormone therapy.

NORRIS: So weaning your self off the therapy.

GRADY: Slowly.

NORRIS: Doctor Grady, good to talk to you.

GRADY: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That was Doctor Deborah Grady. She's a professor of medicine who specializes in hormone therapy at the University of California at San Francisco.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.