There was much interest in the media last week about the current incidence of breast cancer in the UK, with 1 in 8 women now being affected, while this figure was previously 1 in 9. Much discussion took place about the possible cause of this increase, with diet and lifestyle factors featuring. It has been recognised that drinking 2 or more units of alcohol per day, or being overweight after the menopause are associated with significant increased risk of breast cancer yet there is generally a low level of awareness of these important factors. I was delighted that the recent publicity highlighted these issues.
However, much mention was also made of the risk associated with the use of HRT. While it is known that using certain types of HRT for a long time is associated with a small increased risk of breast cancer, there is no evidence that HRT actually causes breast cancer. More likely is that it may stimulate the growth of abnormal cells which are already present in some women. This association must be taken into account when considering the risks and benefits of HRT and when deciding on how long to take HRT, but the risks should be kept in perspective, and there should be more awareness that alcohol intake and being overweight are by far greater risks. See a useful chart demonstrating this at http://www.menopausematters.co.uk/pdf/breastCancerRisklinks.pdf