I know a lot about hormone replacement therapy. Eleven years ago I was diagnosed with estrogen positive (ER+) breast cancer, which means my cancer was fueled by estrogen. Before I started 1010ParkPlace, I had a Top 10 Breast Cancer Blog and the only Survivorship resource for families. Wearing my journalist hat, I interviewed world leaders in breast cancer research and was tutored by experts like Dr. Susan Love, who just updated the 6th edition of her “Breast Book,” the definitive, well-respected “bible” on breast cancer. I learned as much as a layperson can about genetic links, possible causes and ways of reducing the risk of recurrence, or getting breast cancer in the first place. I’ve spoken at women’s health conferences and moderated breast health panels. Even so, before writing this post, I researched the current thinking regarding hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
I tell you this because I want you to know I’m not new to the HRT conversation.
For decades HRT was the gold standard used to treat women going through menopause. Two years ago the Journal of the American Medical Association published the “Women’s Health Initiative” (WHI), which changed popular thinking about HRT. The study reported no net HRT health benefits and some net harm. As a result, HRT is no longer routinely recommended. That said, new evidence shows systemic hormone therapy (pill, patch, gel, cream or spray) may be a good choice for some women, depending on their risk factors: the age they started taking HRT; their current age; the type of HRT; whether they’ve had a hysterectomy, or if they have a family or personal history of cancer. As you can see, it’s complicated.
Because I don’t want you to miss any of the nuances associated with these studies, if this is a topic of interest to you, I want you to read, for yourself, what the Mayo Clinic has to say as well as Dr. David Katz, Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center.
I will say, if you’ve been diagnosed with ER+ breast cancer; you carry one of the breast cancer genes, or have a family history of breast or uterine cancer, you should stay away from all forms of estrogen. This includes HRT, foods containing phytoestrogens (which convert to estrogen in your body), or beauty products containing parabens, which also convert to estrogen in your body. You should also stay away from all soy products… another complicated conversation.
While many doctors are not giving out good advice about HRT, neither is Suzanne Sommers. In 2011, I appeared on The Today Show with Dr. Nancy Snyderman to talk about bioidentical hormones, something Ms. Sommers has written and spoken about extensively.
As Dr. Snyderman said, “Your body doesn’t know the difference between bioidentical hormones made for you by a compounding pharmacist (yet another complicated conversation), or hormones that come from a pharmaceutical company. Hormones are hormones.” Bioidenticals have the same risks as synthetic HRT, plus they are often made from soy.
For those of you who think bioidentical hormones are better for you, you might want to take all of this information into consideration.