July 24, 2006
Testosterone adds to estrogen’s cancer risk: study
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Women seeking relief from menopausal
symptoms and diminished sex drive by taking testosterone as
well as estrogen face a higher risk of breast cancer than with
estrogen alone, a study said on Monday.
Hormone replacement therapy often helps relieve
debilitating symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, night
sweats and vaginal dryness. But since 2002, when a large study
found an association with higher risks of breast cancer,
strokes and blood clots, many women stopped taking hormone
therapy or were advised to keep their dosage as low as possible
and to stop using it as quickly as possible.
Analyzing data on more than 120,000 women in the Nurses'
Health Study, researchers from Boston's Brigham and Women's
Hospital and Harvard Medical School found the more than 800
women who had taken estrogen with testosterone -- which is
targeted at boosting depressed mood and sex drive and lessen
bone deterioration -- faced an even higher risk of breast
The combination of estrogen and testosterone raised the
risk of developing breast cancer by 77 percent compared to
women not taking hormones. Estrogen therapy alone carried a 15
percent higher risk and estrogen combined with progesterone --
taken to cut the attendant risk of ovarian cancer -- carried a
58 percent higher risk.
"Although post-menopausal therapies may provide improvement
with respect to sexual functioning, general well-being and bone
health, the increased risk of breast cancer may outweigh these
benefits," study author Rulla Tamimi wrote in the Archives of
For menopausal women seeking alternatives to hormone
replacement therapy, the news was also not good.
A review of 70 studies of alternative therapies that ranged
from protein diets to meditation found insufficient evidence to
recommend any of them. However the so-called placebo effect
made as many as half the participants feel better.
A majority of the studies examined vitamins, proteins,
complete diets or other biologically based treatments; some
focused on mind-body therapies, including meditation and guided
imagery; one studied osteopathic manipulation; two looked at
reflexology and magnet therapy treatments; and others assessed
traditional Chinese medicine or Indian ayurvedic medicine.
Of 15 studies of women taking soy-derived phytoestrogens,
participants in four indicated they got relief from menopausal
symptoms; the shrub cohosh was helpful to women in one study,
but not in three others; and mind-body therapies were found to
be of little help.
More rigorous studies of these therapies are needed since
many of the women trying alternatives to hormones do so without
informing their doctors, study author Dr. Anne Nedrow of Oregon
Health and Science University, Portland, wrote in the journal.