de Lignières B, de Vathaire F, Fournier S, Urbinelli R, Allaert F, Le MG, Kuttenn F.
Service d’Endocrinologie et Médecine de la Reproduction, Hôpital Necker, Paris, France.
The largest-to-date randomized trial (Women’s Health Initiative) comparing the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and a placebo concluded that the continuous use of an oral combination of conjugated equine estrogens (CEE) and medroxy-progesterone acetate (MPA) increases the risk of breast cancer.
This conclusion may not apply to women taking other estrogen and progestin formulations, as suggested by discrepancies in the findings of in vitro studies, epidemiological surveys and, mostly, in vivo studies of human breast epithelial cell proliferation showing opposite effects of HRT combining CEE plus MPA or estradiol plus progesterone.
To evaluate the risk of breast cancer associated with the use of the latter combination, commonly prescribed in France, a cohort including 3175 postmenopausal women was followed for a mean of 8.9 years (28 367 woman-years). In total, 1739 (55%) of these women were users of one type of estrogen replacement with systemic effect during at least 12 months, any time after the menopause, and were classified as HRT users. Among them, 83% were receiving exclusively or mostly a combination of a transdermal estradiol gel and a progestin other than MPA. Some 105 cases of breast cancer occurred during the follow-up period, corresponding to a mean of 37 new cases per 10 000 women/year.
Using multivariate analysis adjusted for the calendar period of treatment, date of birth and age at menopause, we were unable to detect an increase in the relative risk (RR) of breast cancer (RR 0.98, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.65-1.5) in the HRT users. The RR of breast cancer per year of use of HRT was 1.005 (95% CI 0.97-1.05). These results do not justify early interruption of such a type of HRT, which is beneficial for quality of life, prevention of bone loss and cardiovascular risk profile, without the activation of coagulation and inflammatory protein synthesis measured in users of oral estrogens.