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Estrogen Replacement Therapy Safe for Ovarian Cancer Survivors

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WebMD Health News

Sept. 15, 1999 (Baltimore) -- Women who have had their ovaries removed due to ovarian cancer before menopause can safely take estrogen replacement therapy, according to a study published in the Sept. 15 issue of the journal Cancer.

Surgery to remove the ovaries because of ovarian cancer before menopause often results in significant symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and mood changes. Physicians and patients may be reluctant to use estrogen replacement therapy in such a case due to the fear that estrogen may cause a relapse of the ovarian cancer, according to the authors. The researchers of this study wanted to determine whether estrogen replacement following surgery would indeed lead to a recurrence of ovarian cancer. "Physicians have been, and still are, reluctant to give ovarian [cancer] survivors estrogen replacement therapy because they fear that it will decrease survival by increasing the chance of relapse," write Franco Guidozzi, MD, and Alexandros Daponte, MD, co-authors of the study.

The study was conducted in Johannesburg, South Africa and included 130 women younger than age 59 who had had their ovaries removed after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. About half of the women received estrogen replacement therapy while the other half did not. The women were followed for at least 4 years, and the researchers were interested in determining the amount of time the women remained free of ovarian cancer and how long they survived. The results showed no difference between the two groups.

The benefits of estrogen replacement therapy in these women are multiple, according to the study. Such therapy reduces or eliminates many of the menopausal symptoms that follow removal of the ovaries including hot flashes, mood swings, sleep disturbances, and other symptoms that can disrupt quality of life.

George Huggins, MD, who reviewed the study for WebMD, cites other benefits from estrogen replacement therapy. "Estrogen replacement therapy clearly exerts a protective effect for women against [heart] disease, hip and other fractures due to osteoporosis, and may delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. I routinely offer estrogen replacement therapy to patients who have had their ovaries removed because of ovarian cancer," says Huggins, who is director of obstetrics and gynecology at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Campus in Baltimore.

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