A recent study, in The Lancet, found that the risk of breast cancer from using hormone replacement therapy (HRT)-prescribed for managing menopause, and its effects on the health and well-being of women-is double what was previously thought. While a correlation between HRT and breast cancer was well-established, the study confirms HRT as a direct cause. The study estimates one in 50 women develop breast cancer from five years of taking the most common form of HRT-combined daily oestrogen and progestogen. It also disproved the long-held assumption that the risk of developing cancer from HRT goes away as soon as the therapy is stopped, cautioning women who have taken the treatment in the past to be vigilant for signs of cancer. Further, even as most women continue HRT for a minimum period of 15 months to two years, the research warns that only one year of the treatment might be risk-free.
While HRT is hugely popular in the West, its uptake in India, owing to high-prices (it is mostly imported) to the rural-urban divide, had been much slower. However, in the last decade, HRT has gained ground in India, with an increasing number of women, mostly from metropolitan regions, opting for HRT to deal with menopausal symptoms, like osteoporosis, osteopenia, hot flushes, mood swings, sexual dysfunction, etc, on medical advice. Over 50 million Indian women are of menopausal age, but alternative treatments for their symptoms, ranging from antidepressants to bioidentical hormones, are limited in efficacy or scope. Therefore, while the Lancet study can potentially be a boon to female health, it also fuels a vacuum in management of menopause.