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Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and breast cancer risk

Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can slightly increase breast cancer risk. Learn what HRT is, why it can increase your risk, and what to think about when making a decision.

1. Does HRT cause breast cancer?

HRT can increase the risk of breast cancer. But the increased risk is small and will depend on the type of HRT and how long it's taken for.

2. What is HRT?

HRT is a treatment to help with menopausal symptoms. It increases the level of hormones in the body that naturally reduce during the menopause (when periods stop).

For some women, HRT can vastly improve quality of life, and the risks of taking it need to be balanced against the benefits.

3. Why does HRT increase breast cancer risk?

It’s not fully understood why HRT increases the risk of breast cancer, but research suggests that this is due to the higher levels of oestrogen.

Some (although not all) breast cancers can use oestrogen to help them to grow.

There are some factors that can influence the risk of breast cancer.

  • How long you take HRT for. The longer you use HRT, the greater the risk 
  • The type of HRT you are taking. Breast cancer risk is greater with combined HRT (which contains oestrogen and progestogen) than with oestrogen-only HRT

4. Should I take HRT if I have a family history of breast cancer?

If you have inherited the altered breast cancer genes BRCA1 or 2, speak to your family history or genetics specialist before using HRT.

5. Making the decision to take HRT

Talking to your GP, practice nurse or gynaecologist is a good place to start. Your decision is likely to depend on what side effects of the menopause you're experiencing and how they're affecting your everyday life.

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Quality assurance

Last reviewed in December 2021. The next planned review began in February 2023.

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