For some women, menopause can be a debilitating experience. The hormonal changes it brings on can trigger a range of uncomfortable and sometimes severe symptoms, ranging from hot flushes and bodily aches to depression, vaginal atrophy and pain during sex.
One of the most common methods of reducing these symptoms is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which boosts the hormones a woman’s ovaries stop producing through oral medication or patches.
Although this treatment is popular with women around the world, new research suggests it may be linked to a serious side effect.
According to an Oxford University study published in The Lancet, women who use HRT are 40 per cent more likely to contract ovarian cancer than those who never undertake it.
Researchers examined data from 52 separate studies across different countries, and found there is one extra ovarian cancer case per 1000 users among women who use HRT for 5 years from around the age of 50.
Factors like body size, previous use of contraceptives, family history of cancer and the age HRT began didn't have any bearing on this heightened risk.
These findings applied to the two most common forms of ovarian cancer (serous and endometrioid), and two women taking the two main forms of HRT. The study also found that the risk falls when women cease HRT, although noted there was a "small excess risk" up to ten years after the treatment was finished.
A link between the HRT and ovarian cancer risk has been suspected among health professionals for a long time, and the study authors claim their findings have convincingly proven it. They also believe the evidence should be compelling enough to influence worldwide guidelines about the use of HRT.
"At present, the WHO, European, and US guidelines about hormone therapy do not mention ovarian cancer," the authors write.
"The definite risk of ovarian cancer that is observed even with less than 5 years of use starting at around age 50 years is directly relevant to current patterns of hormone therapy use, and hence directly relevant to medical advice, personal choices, and the current efforts to revise UK and worldwide guidelines."
Have you ever used HRT? What was your experience of it?
To find out more about the risks and benefits associated with HRT, click here.