Post-Menopause Hormones And Breast Cancer Risks

Taking hormones after menopause does not increase the risk of breast cancer, except for some uncommon forms of the disease that are slow-growing and highly treatable, researchers said yesterday.

Millions of women take hormones to ease the symptoms of menopause. The hormones are also known to reduce the risk of heart disease, brittle bones and possibly even mental decline. Some studies have indicated that women who take hormones -- specifically estrogen -- after menopause are more likely to develop breast cancer. This was the first hormone study to categorize cases of breast cancer on whether they were slow- or fast-growing.

Susan M. Gapstur of Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and colleagues analyzed data on 37,105 subjects enrolled at ages 55 to 69 in the Iowa Women's Health Study. Over 11 years ending in 1996, a total of 1,520 cases of breast cancer developed among the women.

Researchers report in today's Journal of the American Medical Association that women who used hormones for five years or less were 1.8 times more likely to have slow-growing, highly curable tumors than women who never took hormones. Those who had used hormones for more than five years were 2.6 times more likely to have the least-threatening tumors.

Coffee and Gallstone Risk

Drinking at least two cups of caffeinated coffee a day lowers a man's risk of developing gallstones, apparently because caffeine helps prevent formation of the lumps, researchers reported.

The Harvard University researchers concluded that coffee provided some protection for adult men from gallstones but stopped short of recommending increased consumption, noting that some people have health risks that coffee could aggravate.

In a report in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found a 40 percent lower risk of developing gallstones among men who drank two to three cups of regular coffee per day. Those who drank four or more cups reduced their risk by 45 percent.

The researchers, led by Michael Leitzmann, said those who drank decaffeinated coffee, tea and soft drinks did not consume as much caffeine as the regular coffee drinkers and did not receive the same protection from gallstones.

Gallstones are lumps composed mainly of cholesterol. They can be caused by fatty diets and afflict 20 million people in the United States alone. When gallstones get stuck in the duct leading from the gallbladder, they can trigger vomiting and cause pain in the abdomen and between the shoulder blades.

The study spanned a decade and included 46,000 dentists, veterinarians, optometrists, physicians and podiatrists aged 40 to 75 who have been participating in the school's Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.