Menopause Symptoms: Breast Pain May Signal Breast Cancer

by Laura Ramirez on December 2, 2011

Menopause symptoms: breast pain or tenderness could be a warning sign of breast cancer. We’ve all read about the 2002 study that linked hormone replacement therapy to breast and uterine cancer in menopausal women. That study was later debunked due to some flaws in the study, yet still, fears about the outcome of using hormone therapy to reduce the symptoms of menopause abounds. While some women take synthetic hormones, others take bioidenticals, others go au naturel. For those who do take hormone therapy, some use estrogen alone, while others use a combination of estrogen and progestin.

The prevailing wisdom about whether to supplement with progestin is related to whether or not the woman in question still has her uterus intact. Progestein balances the action of estrogen and prevents uterine cancer. If you no longer have a uterus due to a hysterectomy, then this balancing effect isn’t necessary and could even be dangerous. This is due to the finding that while taking an estrogen and progestin combination prevents uterine cancer, it also increases the risk of breast cancer.

So what should menopausal women do?

In article published recently on medicalnewstoday.com, results from a new study on study taking hormone therapy for menopause symptoms, breast pain and its relationship to cancer show:

Now a study by researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center has found that women taking the combination estrogen and progestin menopausal hormone therapy who experienced new onset breast tenderness had a 33 percent greater subsequent risk of developing breast cancer than women who did not experience breast tenderness. In contrast, among women taking estrogen alone, those who experienced new-onset breast tenderness did not have a higher subsequent risk of breast cancer.

“This study showed that developing new breast tenderness after the start of hormone therapy was associated with increased breast cancer risk only in women on the combination estrogen plus progestin therapy, not estrogen therapy alone.” said study first author Dr. Carolyn Crandall, a professor of general internal medicine and a scientist with UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

The study appears in the Nov. 17, 2011 in the early online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

A previous study by Crandall, published last month, found that the new onset of breast tenderness was much more pronounced after initiation of estrogen and progestin therapy than in women getting estrogen therapy alone. The association between new onset breast tenderness and changes in breast density also was more pronounced in the women getting the combination hormone therapy.

menopause symptoms breast pain

Menopause symptoms—breast pain may be linked to breast cancer in women taking combination HRT.

The results of these studies seem to indicate that progestin use can lead to breast cancer. This is especially true of women who have dense breasts, whose breast cancer risk is 4-6 times higher than women who do not have dense breasts. The warning sign that hormone replacement therapy may be contraindicated for you seems to be breast pain or tenderness. If this symptom is new for you, then you may want to consider getting off progestin. Although women who take estrogen alone do experience breast tenderness, this has not been linked to increased incidence of breast cancer.

What do you think about the results of this study on hormone therapy for menopause sysmptoms, breast pain and its relationship to cancer?

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