Hormone replacement therapy and estrogen-dependent cancers.Int J Fertil Menopausal Stud 1994; 39 Suppl 2:99-114IJ
Until a few years ago, every treated breast cancer was an absolute contraindication to hormonal replacement therapy (HRT). However, the very high five-year survival rate in stage I breast cancer observed today brings more and more apparently healthy early postmenopausal women who have been treated for breast cancer in the past and who are suffering from heavy vasomotor symptoms due to estrogen deficiency to gynecological consultation. Usually well informed, the same group of women starts to worry about an increased risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis and of cardiovascular diseases. What attitude should be adopted today? Our approach should be differentiated and respect the staging, the estrogen-receptor status, and the presence or absence of axillary lymph-node metastasis of every patient. In estrogen receptor-negative women, there is no contraindication to continuous combined HRT by a fixed estrogen-progestin combination. In estrogen receptor-positive and lymph-node-negative patients, treatment by a nonaromatizable progestin, such as medrogestone or medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), can be introduced to relieve the patient from her postmenopausal syndrome. After 2-3 years of a favorable evolution of the treated cancer, the substitution might be shifted to a fixed-combined continuous HRT. Because estrogen receptor-positive and lymph-node-positive patients today are usually receiving adjuvant treatment with tamoxifen, they profit already from prophylaxis for postmenopausal osteoporosis and, very likely, from decreased cardiovascular risk. If women out of this group continue to suffer from heavy vasomotor symptoms, MPA might be added. However, it must be stressed that every administration of sexual steroids to women who have been treated for breast cancer has to be started only in full agreement with the treating oncologist concerned with the case and only after having obtained the informed consent of the patient. The new ethical dilemma will be our attitude to quality of life in relation to life prolongation.