For women approaching or experiencing menopause, the question of whether or not to utilize hormone replacement therapy is a common one.
After her hysterectomy at age 45, Hazel, now 87 years old and a 12-year breast cancer survivor, faced the same decision. In line with her doctors’ advice, she began a 30-year-long treatment of hormone replacement therapy (HRT for short) until the medical community emerged with a decidedly different opinion on the efficacy and safety of the treatment.
Of this abrupt turn Hazel says, “All of my doctors were saying to get off it. ‘It will harm your vascular system… you’ll have a heart attack.’ And so I began to wean off the premirin.”
At the time, it seemed curious that Hazel’s diagnosis of breast cancer in 2005 came months after she discontinued her HRT treatment.
A medical technician for 35 years, Hazel knew the advantages of annual screenings and never missed her regular mammogram. Although she had a family history of cancer, it was not suggestive of breast cancer–an aunt suffered from melanoma and an uncle from lymphoma and prostate cancer. No variable, other than the change in her HRT regimen, seemed related to the development of a carcinoma in situ in her left breast.
After consulting with her “reputable surgeon” who stated there was “no need for radiation,” Hazel agreed to a lumpectomy as her course of treatment. The cancer returned, but the advice of Hazel’s surgeon did not. Now, eager to meet with her radiation oncologist for the first time, Hazel sat in the exam room and remembers hearing high-heeled shoes coming down the hall. Moments later she met Dr. Weidhaas, the head of the breast cancer radiation oncology service at Yale at the time. According to Hazel, Dr. Weidhaas acknowledged the extraordinary longevity in her family history–Hazel’s mother was 102 at the time–and simply stated, “You’ve got to do radiation. It’s silly. You’re going to live forever.”
Amidst her six-week radiation treatment, Hazel also elected to be tested for the KRAS-variant. As a carrier of the KRAS-variant, she helped scientists like Dr. Weidhaas elucidate a greater understanding of HRT. In fact, the timing of her story echoes that of the medical community trying to discern how, when, and if to implement HRT in their patients’ lives.
As shared on MiraKind’s “Menopause” page, the use of HRT declined dramatically in 2002, three years prior to when Hazel was advised to stop this treatment. Since her diagnosis, researchers have determined that HRT is not a “one size fits all” solution, but rather may have benefits or adverse effects for specific subgroups of the population.