Finally, some good news on hot flushes, according to a recent study by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Many women find hot flushes one of the most distressing parts of the journey through menopause but if there is to be a ‘reward’ then this sounds like a good one. In fact the study found that women who experienced more intense hot flushes – the kind that woke them up at night – had a particularly low risk of breast cancer.
According to senior author Christopher I. Li, M.D, Ph.D, a breast cancer epidemiologist in the Hutchinson Center’s Public Health Sciences Division, it seems that the protective effect appeared to increase along with the number and severity of menopausal symptoms. So the hotter you get, the better your protection – worth remembering when red faced and sweating!
What caused the scientists to suspect a link between hot flushes and decreased breast cancer risk was the important role played by the hormones estrogen and progesterone in the development of (or protection from) most breast cancers. The natural reduction and fluctuation in these hormones at menopause, due to gradual cessation of ovarian function, can impact the frequency and severity of menopausal symptoms.
Women who experienced symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats – particularly frequent and severe symptoms – might have a lower risk of breast cancer due to decreased estrogen levels and that was something the researchers started to investigate.
Indeed, the researchers found a 40 to 60 percent reduction in the risk of the two most common types of breast cancer among women who experienced hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms. The association between such symptoms and decreased cancer risk did not change even after the researchers accounted for other factors known to boost breast cancer risk, such as obesity and use of hormone replacement therapy.
This is a reasonable sized study of 1437 women. The women were surveyed about perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms ranging from hot flushes, night sweats and insomnia to vaginal dryness, irregular or heavy menstrual bleeding, depression and anxiety. This is the first study to examine the relationship between menopausal symptoms and breast cancer risk and the results appear online in the February issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.
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