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Menopause Treatment a Cancer Risk?

Study Shows Estrogen Plus Testosterone May Up Risk of Breast Cancer

Risks vs. Benefits

So what's a woman to do?

"Given the substantial evidence implicating combined estrogen plus progestin therapy in breast cancerand the results of the present study regarding estrogen plus testosterone therapy, women and their physicians should reconsider use and, more specifically, long-term use of these therapies," the researchers conclude. "Although postmenopausal therapies may provide improvement with respect to sexual functioning, general well-being, and bone health, the increased risk of breast cancermay outweigh these benefits."

When it comes to treating the symptoms of menopause, "'safe' is a relative term," says Donnica Moore, MD, a women's health expert based in Far Hills, N.J. "There is no product -- prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) -- that works that is absolutely free of side effects. And there are also risks, per se, of not treating symptoms," Moore says. "There is no one-size-fits-all answer for all women. Each woman with menopausal symptoms or concerns should speak with her doctor, who is in the best position to help her decide what's best for her given her unique circumstances, her symptoms, her risks, and her medical history."

The use of testosterone as part of a hormone replacement therapy may continue to increase, Moore predicts. "This is in large part due to increased awareness of the benefits of testosterone for women with decreased libido," she tells WebMD.

"Women should not take any OTC or pharmaceutically created testosterone that isn't prescribed by their doctor -- and your doctor knows your specific risks," says Lila E. Nachtigall, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and director of the Women's Wellness program at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. Nachtigall is also the author of several books including Estrogen.

"The bottom line is that women must discuss their own risks and benefits with their doctor."

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