In this Women’s Month, I thought it would be interesting to revisit one of the seminal studies of the last 30 years – The Million Women Study– the largest study of its kind ever.
The study was set up to investigate the influence of hormone replacement (HRT) medications and oral contraceptives on cancer incidence and between 1996 and 2001 1.3 million women were recruited at Breast Screening centres throughout the UK (that is 1 in every 4 women aged 50-64!) As the study progressed it was widened to look at Women’s health in general, not just the initial window of questioning. Due to the size of the group, the researchers were able to explore the impact of lifestyle, genes, and diet on health and disease.
The initial results that most people are aware of were published in 2003 – namely that women currently using HRT were at increased risk of Breast Cancer and at significantly larger risk if using combined HRT (Progesterone and Oestrogen). Importantly the risk subsides to normal once the HRT is discontinued.
Since then it has been established that ovarian cancer risk also increases and oestrogen-only therapy increases the risk of womb cancer (overall the incidence nearly doubles as compared to no hormone therapy).
These results matched those found in smaller studies around the world and fairly quickly guidelines for use of these medications adapted to reflect the risks – ie use for the minimum required time to manage the symptoms of menopause.
Data continues to be produced and mined by this study and the following, among many others, have recently been established (and are fascinating!):
- Using the pill for 10 or more years cuts womb cancer risk in half
- Unhappiness and stress don’t in themselves lead to poor health – once smoking and other lifestyle factors are accounted for – but ill health can lead to unhappiness
- Tubal ligation reduces the risks of some ovarian cancers and fallopian tube cancers
- Smoking, excess weight and diabetes increase the risks of cataracts.
- Low to moderate use of alcohol raises the risk of many types of cancer
- Women taking antidepressants are 40% more likely to suffer from Venous Thrombembolism (blood clots)
- For every 10cm increase in height, there is a 50% increase in the risk of hip fracture
- Increases in just 4 factors: tobacco use, alcohol consumption, obesity and lack of exercise explain the increased incidence of heart disease among the poor and less educated.
- Eating organic food does not lower the risk of cancer.
- Moderate exercise reduces the risks of vascular disease, vigorous exercise does not. The risks increase with both less and more than moderate exercise.
- Married or partnered women are just as likely to develop heart disease as single women, but 20-30% less likely to die from heart disease
The list of at times unexpected conclusions goes on and on and I would heartily recommend the millionwomenstudy.org website if you want to explore further.
If you have hormonal concerns of your own and want to talk about Natural and lifestyle-based alternative treatments please come in to Thrive for a chat with me.
Appointments can be made by messaging me at 0837899328
Dr. Bruce Thomson