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Breast cancer warning over hormone pills

NEW research suggests long-term use of any type of hormone pills to ease menopause symptoms can raise a woman's risk of breast cancer.

It is already known taking pills that combine estrogen and progestins -- the most common type of hormone therapy -- can increase breast cancer risk. But women who no longer have a uterus can take estrogen alone, which was thought to be safe and possibly even slightly beneficial in terms of cancer risk.

The new study suggests otherwise, if the pills are used for many years. It tracked the health of about 60,000 nurses and found that use of any kind of hormones for 10 years or more slightly raised the chances of developing breast cancer.

"There's a continued increase in risk with longer durations of use and there does not appear to be a plateau," said study leader Dr Wendy Chen, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The hormone picture has been confusing, and the absolute risk of breast cancer for any woman taking hormone pills remains small. Doctors say women should use the lowest dose needed for the shortest time possible.

Risk

"It's hard to be surprised that if you keep taking it, sooner or later it's going to raise risk," said Dr Robert Clarke of Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The study was discussed today at a cancer conference in Chicago.

Meanwhile, new research might help explain why black women are so much more likely than white women to develop and die from cervical cancer.

The research finds that black women seem to have more trouble clearing HPV, the virus that causes the disease.

Researchers have long thought that less access to health care in the US makes black women more vulnerable to cervical cancer.

But the new study suggests that there might also be a biological reason.

Doctors say if other research confirms that finding, the HPV vaccine would become even more important for black women. The vaccine is recommended for all girls starting at age 11.

The study involved students at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

hnews@herald.ie


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