This report has been updated with #1320.

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association has an article showing that taking estrogen for more than 10 years after the menopause increases a woman's chances for developing ovarian cancer. This is particularly disturbing because most previous studies show that taking estrogen helps protect a woman from developing ovarian cancer. The theory was that the ovary is stimulated by FSH, a hormone produced by the brain. Taking estrogen stops the brain from producing FSH , so it puts the ovary at rest and helps to prevent ovarian cancer.

However, even thought the theory is fine and most previous studies show that estrogen helps prevent ovarian cancer, this study on 676,000 women is one of the most extensive so far, and it show that women who take estrogen for more than 10 years are at increased risk for ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is one of the worst cancers since it rarely causes symptoms. It usually spreads to other parts of the body before it is discovered and therefore has a high rate of being incurable.

On the basis of this study, women who take estrogen for more than 10 years should get sonograms of their ovaries to check for ovarian cancer. There is no increased risk for ovarian cancer in women who take estrogen fewer than five years. The rules for taking estrogen remain the same. The woman who needs estrogen the most is the one who has the smallest and weakest bones because the main reason to take estrogen after the menopause is to prevent osteoporosis. However, women can now take bone-strengthening medicines such as Foxamax.

JAMA March 22, 2001

Reported 2/15/01; checked 9/3/05

Get our newsletter