Over twenty-five years ago the natural health community was warning of the dangers in using synthetic hormones. Synthetic hormones run straight to the female breasts and they’re there forever, i.e., until a tumor arises and then it can feed off them.
Most medical doctors laughed and drug companies scoffed. But the community of believers grew and grew, and finally forced the government into making studies. And yes, synthetic hormones that are in birth control pills, as well as the ones doctors give out for menopause increase the chances of breast cancer and indeed other cancers.
Now, after the government’s report a few years ago caused millions of women to stop taking synthetic hormones, reports of new breast cancer has dropped.
The millions of US women who quit taking menopause hormones after a big federal study found that the pills raised the risk of breast cancer have more reason to be glad they stopped.
A new analysis reveals that US breast cancer rates plunged more than seven percent in 2003 and strongly suggests that the reason is less hormone use.
“It’s a big deal … amazing, really,” said one of the researchers, Dr. Rowan Chlebowski of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. “It’s better than a cure” because these are cases that never occurred, he said.
About 14,000 fewer women were diagnosed with the disease than had been expected, researchers reported Thursday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
Cancers take years to form, so going off hormones would not instantly prevent new tumors. But tumors that had been developing might stop growing, shrink or disappear, so they were no longer detected by mammograms or digital imaging, researchers stated.
Cases dropped most among women 50 and older — the age group taking hormones. The decline was biggest for tumors whose growth is fuelled by estrogen — the type most affected by hormone use.
In fact, when both factors were combined — older women with estrogen-positive tumors — the drop was 12 per cent.
The decline was seen in every single cancer registry that reports information to the federal government, and no big change occurred with any other major type of cancer. These are strong signs that the breast cancer decline is no statistical fluke or error.
A separate study by the American Cancer Society, currently in press with a medical journal, also documents the drop in cases.
Breast cancer is the most common major cancer in American women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women. About 213,000 new cases are expected to occur in the United States this year and more than one million worldwide.
In July 2002, the federal Women’s Health Initiative study was stopped after more breast cancers and heart problems occurred among women taking estrogen-progestin pills.
That led to new warning labels on the drugs and doctor groups urging women to use the lowest dose for the shortest time possible for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.
Within a year, about half of women who had been taking hormones stopped. Prescriptions had been steady at around 22 million each quarter, but plummeted to 12.7 million in the last quarter of 2003, according to IMS Health, which tracks drug sales.
Breast cancer rates declined, too. In 2002, there were roughly 134 cases per 100,000 women — a 2.5 percent drop from about 137 the previous year. In 2003, there were only 124 cases per 100,000 women — about a seven percent drop over 2002. And as noted above, the type of cancer that feeds on estrogen dropped by over 12 percent.
That is the most significant decline in the breast cancer rate since records have been kept beginning in the 1970s.
Researchers saw an even stronger trend when they looked month-to-month. Cases dropped six per cent in the first half of 2003 and nine per cent in the second half.
“Consistently across the entire year, there appeared to be a trend toward decrease,” Ravdin said.
Estrogen-sensitive tumors declined twice as much as tumors that are not fueled by estrogen. The decline in incidence among women ages 50-69 was three times that of other age groups.
The numbers come from the National Cancer Institute’s surveillance database, which uses cancer registries around the country to project national incidence and death rates.
It is not known whether tumours that stop when women stop taking hormones will regress and never become a problem or just take longer to show up, Ravdin said.
However, doctors already know that withdrawing hormones causes tumours to shrink.