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Menopause does not cause cancer. But the risk of developing all types of cancer increases with age. So women going through menopause have a greater chance of developing cancer because they’re older, however, the age during which a woman starts menopause seems to have an effect on her cancer risk.

October: Not the Only Thing Menopause and Breast Cancer have in Common

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How does menopause affect a woman’s cancer risk?

Menopause does not cause cancer. But the risk of developing all types of cancer increases with age. So women going through menopause have a greater chance of developing cancer because they’re older, however, the age during which a woman starts menopause seems to have an effect on her cancer risk.

Starting menopause after age 55 increases a woman’s risk of breast and endometrial cancer. That’s probably because she’s been exposed to more estrogen. Estrogen stimulates the uterine and breast tissues, so more menstrual periods means the longer these tissues are exposed to estrogen.  Similar logic is applied to ovarian cancer as more periods mean more ovulations.

Does post-menopause Hormone Therapy affect cancer risk?

The Women’s Health Initiative showed that women who took combined hormone therapy (estrogen and progestin) had a bigger risk of breast cancer. There also may be a higher risk for women taking estrogen alone, but study results on this risk are still inconclusive. 

Some studies also suggest that using HT after menopause may slightly increase ovarian cancer risk. Generally, the longer you use hormone therapy, the more your cancer risk appears to increase.

That said, one study actually showed that women who used HT had a smaller risk of colorectal cancer. But the increase in breast cancer risk is still bigger than the decreased risk for colon cancer. So HT risks tend to outweigh any benefits. 

breast-cancer

What can women do to reduce their cancer risk during and after menopause?

Well, ladies, the same cancer fighting lifestyle before menopause is beneficial after:  exercise, healthy diet, don’t smoke/avoid secondhand smoke, and maintain a healthy body weight.

Unfortunately, research shows that gaining weight after menopause increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer.  Losing weight after menopause can actually reduce your risk.

by Carrie Mapes

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