Women who are experiencing hot flushes and other symptoms of menopause are at lower risk of developing the most common forms of breast cancer, revealed in a new study.
"In particular we 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," said senior author Christopher I. Li, a breast cancer epidemiologist in the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division.
Li and colleagues suspected a link between menopause misery and decreased breast cancer risk because hormones such as estrogen and progesterone play an important role in the development of most breast cancers, and reductions in these hormones caused by gradual cessation of ovarian function can impact the frequency and severity of menopausal symptoms.
"Since menopausal symptoms occur as hormone levels fluctuate and drop, we hypothesized that 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," he said.
Indeed, the researchers found a 40 percent to 60 percent reduction in the risk of invasive ductal and invasive lobular carcinoma - the two most common types of breast cancer - among women who experienced hot flushes and other 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.
For the study, which was funded by the National Cancer Institute, Li and colleagues interviewed 1,437 postmenopausal Seattle-area women, 988 of whom had been previously diagnosed with breast cancer and 449 of whom had not, who served as a comparison group. 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.
The results will be published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.