Breast Cancer, Menopause and Hormone Therapy: The good, the bad, the ugly

The very words, hormone therapy, are enough to bring shivers to some women. So much controversy, so many things that could go wrong and yet there are many women who use hormone replacement with little problems whatsoever. Hormone replacement therapy is widely used to relieve menopausal symptoms, though some women, due to fear, choose to deal with the hot flashes and night sweat, afraid of what might happen to their bodies if they chose to use the hormones. Not only will we discuss menopausal women, we will also talk of the women on the flip side of the coin who use hormone therapy for the treatment of breast cancer. These women, like their cancer free counterparts, also have to deal with the fears of what could happen due to the use of hormones to prevent or control their cancer. We will now go into the discussion of hormone therapy and hormone replacement therapy: the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Good

For years, hormone replacement therapy has been used to treat menopausal symptoms in women who are going through menopause due to age and those who are going through menopause due to the surgical removal of their internal female sex organs, especially the ovaries. Many women were thrilled to be able to take a daily pill or slap on a weekly patch, to decrease their hot flashes, night sweats and general irritability caused by their low to no estrogen and/or progesterone levels.

For women with breast cancer, the exact opposite is done. These women are given hormones to block their naturally occuring estrogen so as to decrease the cancers growth caused by the estrogen itself. To these women, both the menopausal and the breast cancer victims, hormone therapy is considered a God send, giving them a chance to live as normal life as possible.


The Bad

As with all medications we ingest into our bodies, including herbal remedies, there are side effects and contraindications for use, the latter meaning reasons we should not take the medicine at all. For women with undiagnosed vaginal bleeding, severe liver disease, who are pregnant, coronary artery disease, venous thrombosis or with well differentiated and/or early endometrial cancer, taking any form of hormones could greatly increase the chance of contracting cancer in other body areas or make the diseases they have worse.

Hormone therapy drugs that are used for treating breast cancer, such as Tamoxifen, Farestin, and Femara also have their own list of common side effects. These side effects can include: irregular bleeding, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, weight gain, vaginal dryness and/or itching, and hot flashes.


The Ugly

When talking about hormone replacement therapy, the one thing that comes to the minds of most women is the chance that they will get cancer from the promotion of the growth of cancer cells by ingesting estrogen and/or progesterone. It can be argued, for these women, that if they were going to get cancer it would have been a problem anyway with their own, natural estrogen and progesterone levels and that maintaining or replacing their natural levels with medications would not make a difference one way or the other.

World wide studies have shown, though, that they do have reason to be concerned. Some studies have shown that women who used hormones to relieve menopausal symptoms did have an increased incidence of getting cancer and the women who were already breast cancer survivors, who decided to use hormone for menopausal symptom relief, were more than three times as likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer than their counterparts who did not use hormone replacement therapy.

Finally, though not an exhaustive study, it has been shown that some of the hormones used to treat or prevent breast cancer can cause some other, very, severe problems. Some of the hormones used not only affect fertility, but if used by women who are or become pregnant have been shown to possibly cause problems in the developing fetus. Because of this, it is imparative that a women that is of child bearing age should definately speak with her doctor before starting treatment as birth control needs to be seriously discussed. There is also an increased chance of blood clots forming. When this happens and the blood clots break into normal circulation, they could travel to the brain and cause a stroke or travel to the lung causing a blockage. Blood clots are dangerous for anybody as they could cause immediate death. One final thing that has been shown is that some hormones used to treat breast cancer actually put the patient at an increased risk for getting uterine cancer, even though the breast cancer is being treated effectively.

In conclusion, any woman who has been given the option for hormone therapy or hormone replacement therapy has a lot to think about. It is important that she do as much research as possible and talk to her doctor concerning the pros and cons of treatment for her quality of life, so as to be able to make the best decision for herself as possible. Education, in the long run, will be one of the major deciding factors as to if hormone therapy is truly worth it to the individual.
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