hormonesOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a national, collaborative effort between The American Cancer Society and breast cancer charities across the country to raise funds for breast cancer research, and to bring awareness to its causes, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.

According to The American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 American women – or 12 percent – will develop some form of invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. For women going through perimenopause, and those in menopause, who might be contemplating hormone therapy to help with their symptoms, these numbers can be especially foreboding.Women might also be leery of this medical approach due in large part to the now infamous Women’s Health Initiative study released in the early 2000s. This study allegedly linked hormone therapy to a higher risk of breast cancer, among other serious health issues for women.

Consequently, many women are now reluctant to consider hormone therapy to help manage their perimenopause and menopause symptoms for fear of putting themselves at a higher risk for breast cancer. As a woman who uses bioidentical hormone therapy to treat her own menopause symptoms, and who also has breast cancer run in her family, I certainly understand these concerns.

I also understand how frustrating it is, trying to separate the wheat from the chaff to make sense out of medical research on the benefits versus the risks of hormone therapy.  When so many “experts” contradict one another, and who also claim to have the “indisputable facts” and “accurate research” to support their position, it seems like an impossible task.

So what is the truth?  Does hormone therapy increase your risk for breast cancer or not?  What does the research say about bioidentical hormones? Are there any benefits to using bioidentical hormones, and if so, what are they?

What did we learn from the Women’s Health Initiative?

Before you can answer these questions, it’s important to understand exactly what the Women’s Health Initiative study revealed, and why it raised so much cause for concern.

In a nutshell, the study began in 1994 and came to an abrupt halt in 2002. This is because a combination of the drugs Premarin (a synthetic estrogen derived from pregnant mare urine) and Provera (a synthetic progesterone), showed a 24 percent increased risk of breast cancer, coronary heart disease, and stroke among the women in the study who took the drugs, compared to those who did not.

The subsequent fall-out was nothing short of mass hysteria, with the reverberations still being felt today, amid tangled webs of misinformation. One significant fact in the study which is rarely disclosed, however, is that it was Provera, the synthetic progesterone, used in conjunction with Premarin that was revealed to be the culprit in increasing a woman’s risk for breast cancer. Bioidentical hormones were not used in the study at all.

To date, no studies have been done which show that bioidentical hormones, hormones which contain the exact molecular structure of hormones produced in the human body, raise a woman’s risk for breast cancer, heart disease, stroke or blood clots.

In fact, according Ageology’s menopause expert, Dr. Paul Savage, We continue to research and learn more about the necessity and the safety of hormone therapy in women.  A “therapeutic window” of time for treating menopause to maximize benefits and minimize risk is becoming more clear and well-defined.”

Research on bioidentical hormones has shown that women who use hormone therapy to treat their perimenopause and menopause symptoms enjoy a reduction in hot flashes and night sweats, and an improvement in their mood, libido, and bone density, compared to those who do not.  Furthermore, they showed no difference in an increased risk for breast cancer or other serious health issues, such as endometrial cancer, heart disease, stroke and blood clots.

Is Bioidentical Hormone Therapy for You?

The decision to use bioidentical hormone therapy is a highly personal one made between you and your physician, and should never be predicated upon “keeping up with Mrs. Jones.” Accurate information, unclouded by medical hyperbole and half-baked truths, will also enable you to make your decision with confidence.

Magnolia Miller is a health writer and certified healthcare consumer advocate who blogs and writes regularly at The Perimenopause Blog and Healthline.com