Next time you have a hot flash, try to enjoy it. Researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have reported that having menopausal symptoms - a signal of low estrogen levels - may be a sign of less risk for breast cancer. Estrogen is the female hormone that provides the fuel for 80% of all breast cancers. Many treatments for breast cancer, including chemotherapy and follow-up medications such as Tamoxifen and Aromasin, are designed to lower the amount of circulating estrogen in your body, thus depriving cancer cells from the hormone that keeps them growing. Having naturally low estrogen levels may be bothersome, but it does appear to provide a defense against breast tumors.
This study was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention and involved 1,000 women aged between 55 and 74, who had previously been diagnosed with breast cancer. An additional 1,000 women from the same age group were also recruited - women who had never had breast cancer. Each participant was surveyed about the severity and frequency of her menopausal symptoms. The women ranked their hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbance, and depression along a scale, and then the researchers analyzed that data, along with their medical histories.
Women in this study who reported frequent, heavy-duty hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia appeared to have a 40 - 50% lower risk of developing Invasive Ductal Carcinoma or Invasive Lobular Carcinoma - two very common breast cancer diagnoses. When hot flashes occurred with severity more than a couple of times a day, those symptoms were associated with fewer cases of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer.
Keep in mind that the risk of breast cancer increases with age - a fact that seems in conflict with the findings from this research. But this is only one study, and the researchers said: 'This is the first study to report that women who experience menopausal symptoms have substantially reduced risk of breast cancer and that the severity of hot flushes is also inversely associated with risk.' Several more studies would need to be able to repeat this data, before it can be conclusive.
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