Higher cancer risk from HRT is 'not a cause for any panic'
Women have been reassured that the overall risk of taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) remains small following the latest report linking it with cancer.
The treatment remains beneficial, leading Dublin oncologist Dr David Fennelly said, after a 'Lancet' review found the risk of the disease from using HRT is double what was previously thought.
Oxford University researchers found that 8.3pc of patients taking HRT for five years developed breast cancer - compared with 6.3pc who were not on the treatment.
Thousands of women in Ireland take HRT, mostly for the relief of severe symptoms of the menopause such as hot flushes and sweats, and the numbers are rising.
Dr Fennelly, who treats women with breast cancer at St Vincent's Hospital, said women should not panic.
The overall risk is still small and benefits include quality of life improvement for women with distressing symptoms of the menopause as well as helping counteract osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disease and heart disease, he added.
"There is no need to be excessively frightened by the finding as long as long as HRT is managed carefully," he said.
Women's doctors should monitor them through a breast cancer X-ray, a mammogram, probably annually.
They would also be watched for possible risk of venous thromboembolism, a condition where a blood clot forms in a vein .
Women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer should discuss this with their GP - but it would not necessarily mean they should not be prescribed it, he added.
GP Dr Deirdre Lundy, women's health specialist with the Irish College of General Practitioners, said it does not change current prescribing guidelines.
"Patients should be reassured that this is nothing to be concerned about and comforted to remain on their HRT if they find benefit," she added.
The findings - based on 58 global studies - calculated six in every 100 women not taking menopausal hormone therapy would develop breast cancer between the ages of 50 and 69.
If they took HRT oestrogen and progestagen every day for five years, eight of the women would develop breast cancer.
Out of every 50 people taking the combined therapy, one would develop breast cancer as a result of the drugs.
There are other types of hormone replacement therapy and each of those showed an increased risk too.
Taking intermittent hormone therapy - daily oestrogen, but progestagen for around half the monthly cycle - led to one extra case of breast cancer in every 70 people.
HRT oestrogen caused an extra case in every 200 women.
Nearly all types of therapy - pills, gels and patches - increased the risk of breast cancer. The extra risk also lasts for 10 or more years after women stopped treatment.
Only those on HRT for less than a year had no greater or little chance of cancer. The authors of the study said they do want to be "unduly alarming" or "unduly reassuring".