Even though there are a number of alternative therapies available today many women still turn to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help them to cope with their menopause symptoms. The majority of the common symptoms that are associated with the menopause are caused by falling levels of the hormone oestrogen and HRT acts to counteract this fall. Unfortunately, while there are obvious benefits to HRT there are also a number of risks and in some cases the risks outweigh the benefits. So who is at risk from HRT?
Women who have previously been diagnosed with breast cancer
HRT is now known to increase the risk of developing breast cancer and so any women who have previously been diagnosed and treated for the disease will more often than not be refused HRT. As yet there is no evidence to say that the risk of developing breast cancer for a second time is any higher than the risk of developing breast cancer for the first time however doctors generally assume there is and so rarely offer HRT to women who have previously beaten breast cancer.
Similarly, women who have a history of breast cancer in their immediate family i.e. in their mother or sisters may also have an increased risk of developing the disease should they be treated with HRT for their menopause symptoms. Breast cancer is thought to be related to a specific genetic mutation and so if the mutation is present in a family line then there is a much higher risk of developing the disease even without the added complication of HRT treatment.
Women who have circulatory problems
HRT can slightly increase the chances of a female developing either deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism, especially within the first 12 months of using the treatment. While this increase is very slight for most women, those who have previously been diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis or who suffer with other circulatory disorders such as blood clotting conditions should consult a doctor regularly and especially if they experience any adverse symptoms regarding their circulation.
Many doctors today will discourage women with circulatory disorders from using HRT, especially long term and if they do go ahead then they will undoubtedly be monitored closely for the first few years.
Women who had uterine or ovarian problems before menopause
In addition to breast cancer, oestrogen-only HRT is known to increase the risk of both uterine and ovarian cancer. Oestrogen-only HRT causes the lining of the womb to thicken and this can lead to cancer development in a few cases. This risk can be reduced by prescribing progesterone as well because this causes the womb to shed any excess lining either monthly or at more irregular intervals.
Your doctor should be able to give you much more information regarding HRT and from there you can decide together if this form of treatment is right for you. There are a number of side effects to HRT which may or may not affect you and you should ask your doctor about these as well. It is worth remembering that there are alternatives to HRT and a growing number of women are turning to these more natural forms of treatment each year. If it works for them then it may very well work for you, and without the side effects.