Menopause hot flashes - cancer protectors?


Menopause News March 20th 2011

Bring on the flushes ... and the hotter and sweatier the better!

Menopauses hot flashes are popularly regarded as the big, bad enemy of midlife women. But a study published this year suggests that women who have hot flushes tend to have a lower chance of getting breast cancer. And to boot: the more severe the flushes, the greater the protection seems to be! (1)

Investigators from Seattle looked at data from a case-control study that involved over a thousand women with three different types of breast cancer. They compared the number and intensity of menopause hot flashes, reported by women with breast cancer, with similar data from a matched group of women without breast cancer.

There was an reverse trend between the tendency to suffer from menopause hot flashes and the likelihood of getting any of three common types of breast cancer; in short, the worse the flushes, the lower the risks of cancer. In particular, women who reported suffering from those especially troublesome flushes, that cause night wakening or heavy sweating, had a lower cancer risk.

It wasn't only menopause hot flashes that were linked with this lower cancer risk: women who reported ever having menopausal symptoms had about half the risk of developing one of the two most common types of breast cancer.

This is the first time a study has suggested that hot flushes may be linked to a positive effect on the body, and there are lots of provisos in interpreting the data. The study methods were sound, but nevertheless they had an inherent risk of some bias, as the researchers acknowledge.

One possible biological explanation for the results, would be that if the women who get the worst flushes are also the ones with the lowest estrogen levels, then these lower hormone levels may be protective against breast cancer.

But it seems likely that the picture is much more complicated. Having hot flushes by no means indicates that a woman will not get breast cancer, so it’s not really a cause for great celebration. And the researchers suggest that menopause hot flashes and hormone levels may be independently linked with breast cancer risk.

But whatever the mechanism, if this association is confirmed in other studies, it may shed some useful light into the biological whys and wherefores of these very mysterious midlife heatwaves.


Reference

  1. Huang Y, Malone KE, Cushing-Haugen, et al. Relationship between menopausal symptoms and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarker Prev 2011;20:379-388.


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Published March 20th 2011.

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