TORONTO – Hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal women with the BRCA1 genetic mutation lowers their risk of breast cancer by 42 per cent, an international study has found.
The study was led by Dr. Steven Narod of Women’s College Hospital, who is the Canada Research Chair in Breast Cancer, program director of the familial breast cancer research unit at Women’s College Research Institute and professor of public health sciences at University of Toronto.
As reported in Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the study looked at 472 women, out of a pool of 9,000 women with the gene mutation, who had gone into early menopause as a result of prophylactic surgery or for other reasons.
Research was carried out in five European centres, 19 in the United States and 19 in Canada, including Saskatoon, Edmonton, London, Montreal (at McGill University), Hamilton, Kingston, Halifax and Toronto’s Princess Margaret, Sunnybrook, Womens College and Mount Sinai hospitals, Narod said.
Some women, especially younger ones, who are especially at risk for breast or ovarian cancer if they carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, deal with the risk by having their breasts or ovaries removed. This puts them into menopause, Narod said, with the accompanying mood swings and psychological effects.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), either estrogen alone or an estrogen-progesterone combination, can decrease or prevent these side effects.
An earlier study warned that statistically, HRT can, in fact, lead to an increased chance of getting breast cancer. Narod’s study, however, found that in those with the gene mutations, it can reduce the risk and maintain quality of life.
This study is particularly important for Ashkenazi Jewish women, among whom there is a much greater incidence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.
Narod stressed that “this is a first study. [To be definitive] the results need to be replicated.”
Womens College Hospital Foundation is honouring Narod with a special event called Real to Reel – Facing Breast Cancer: Living with BRCA1. It is scheduled for Oct. 29 at the Manulife Centre Cineplex Odeon Theatre.
The evening will begin at 5 p.m. with a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception, followed at 5:45 by the screening of In The Family, a documentary about a family dealing with having the BRCA1 gene mutation.
After the film, a panel, including Narod; Dr. John Semple, the Women’s College Hospital’s chief of surgery; and a genetic counsellor, will answer questions from the audience.
The cost is $108. Registration is through the website, womenscollegehospitalfoundation.ca, by telephone at 416-323-6323 or by e-mail at [email protected]. Proceeds will go toward supporting Narod’s seminal work in predictive genetic testing.