Harvard Health Letter

In Brief: Could estrogen help colon cancer patients?

In Brief

Could estrogen help colon cancer patients?

Postmenopausal hormones have gotten a bad reputation because of studies linking them to a higher risk for breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. Data reported late in 2006 showed an unexpected dip in breast cancer incidence. The leading explanation was that large numbers of women had stopped taking postmenopausal hormones because they were worried about the health risks.

But we've got to be careful about painting with too broad and black a brush. Some evidence indicates that the cardiovascular risks increase only for women who begin or continue taking hormones a decade after menopause has started, or in women with known heart disease.

And hormone therapy may protect some women from colon cancer. A meta-analysis pegged the risk reduction at 20%. In the Women's Health Initiative — the large, government-sponsored randomized trial that has generated many of the negative findings about postmenopausal hormones — women who took the estrogen-progestin combination were 39% less likely to get colon cancer than those who took placebo pills.

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