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BREAST CANCER AND THE MENOPAUSE

Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women. Over 55, 000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK according to statistics from BreastCancerNow.org. Around four out of five are diagnosed in women over the age of 50.

However, here’s the good news: going through the menopause does not, in itself, put you at greater risk of breast cancer. In fact, a 2011 study from the US suggested that women experiencing menopausal symptoms were significantly less at risk of developing it.  Your risk does, however, increase with age and most women with breast cancer tend to be 40+ or most commonly in their 50s and 60s and so are typically around menopausal age. Any risk is increased because you are older, not because you are menopausal.

Age is a factor

Starting your menopause after the age of 55 has also been found to increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer and endometrial cancer. Experts believe this is because she has been exposed to more oestrogen, due to the more periods she has had.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Some studies have shown that HRT may potentially raise the risk of breast cancer in some cases (although hormone therapy does appear to reduce the risk of colon cancer). As the link between HRT and breast cancer remains  doctors might not recommend you take it if you have had a history of breast cancer or have a high risk of developing it. If you are taking HRT when diagnosed with breast cancer you might be advised to stop. A recent review of studies concludes that current scientific evidence neither confirms or disputes that HRT causes breast cancer.

Breast cancer treatments and menopausal symptoms

Breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy or ovarian suppression can cause low levels of hormones that can lead to any early menopause or menopausal symptoms.

Reducing your risk of breast cancer.

The same ways you reduce your risk of cancers before menopause is pretty much the same during it: eating well ; getting quality sleep; not smoking; exercising  and keeping your weight down. Research shows gaining weight after menopause increases your risk of breast cancer but losing it post menopause reduces it. No one particularly wants to hear this, but for every unit of alcohol you drink you increase your risk of breast cancer so be mindful of keeping your drinking in check (reducing your intake will also reduce your calorie intake and help to keep your weight down too). Check your breasts regularly for any changes and if you are over 50 do go for your breast screening appointment when invited.

For more support and advice, head back to our dedicated menopause guide

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