Many women suffer from hot flashes when they reach menopause. Doctors are quickly consulted, medication is swallowed and – if all goes well – the hot flashes disappear. But what if hot flashes had a biological purpose? What if hot flashes are produced by the body to prevent the development of breast cancer?
Autor: Dr. med. W. Tönnes
Hot flashes correlate with reduced breast cancer risk
According to a recent study by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, women who have experienced hot flashes or other symptoms of menopause have a 50 percent lower risk of developing the most common forms of breast cancer than women who have never experienced such symptoms (1).
In fact, the more frequent and intense menopausal hot flashes were, the lower the risk of breast cancer.
The results of this study, the first in which researchers addressed a possible link between menopausal symptoms and breast cancer risk, were recently published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.
Specifically, we found that those women with the most severe hot flashes – the hot flashes were so severe that they woke the women up at night – had a particularly low risk of breast cancer
Study lead author Christopher I. Li, M.D., Ph.D., said in a press release. Christopher I. Li is a breast cancer epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
Incredible reduction in breast cancer risk
Dr. Li and his colleagues discovered an incredible reduction in the risk of invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma(1) (the two most common breast cancers) in women who had experienced hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. The association between these symptoms and a reduced risk of breast cancer did not change even after the researchers took into account other factors that are actually known to increase the risk of breast malignancies, such as obesity and hormone replacement therapy.
The study, which was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, involved 1437 women from the Seattle area. The women had already gone through menopause, and 988 of the study participants had previously been diagnosed with breast cancer, and 449 women without breast cancer were used as a comparison group.
The women were asked about possible symptoms during their menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats, sleep problems, depression, vaginal dryness, irregular or heavy menstrual bleeding, and also anxiety.
Hot flashes: Preventive self-help program of the body?
While the symptoms of menopause certainly have a negative impact on quality of life, our study suggests that they may have positive aspects as well – especially if the reduction in risk of breast cancer from experiencing hot flashes were confirmed in further studies
said Dr. Li.
If so, the results of the study have the potential to provide science with new insights into the possible causes of breast cancer, and to change the way menopausal symptoms are dealt with so that they are no longer suppressed, but can be seen as a preventive self-help program for the body.
Trust in the body
Dr. Li and his colleagues hypothesized the following: Because menopausal symptoms occur through both fluctuations and a sudden drop in hormone levels, women who experience more frequent and severe menopausal symptoms also have a lower risk of breast cancer due to their lower estrogen levels. However, this would simply mean that both hot flashes and the reduced risk of breast cancer occur as a result of a certain hormone status.
In addition, the study also indirectly points to the intriguing possibility that hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause may specifically inhibit the development of breast cancer in ways that are still unknown. And so it is shown once again that a certain trust in the wisdom of one’s own body can occasionally be more valuable for long-term health than a hasty trip to the uncle doctor.
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(1) Relationship between Menopausal Symptoms and Risk of Postmenopausal Breast Cancer