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Family History of Breast Cancer: Should You Take HRT?

Understanding Your Risks and Making Informed Decisions

If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may be concerned about whether Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is safe for you. This guide aims to provide clarity on the topic. For personalized advice on your specific risk of inheriting breast cancer, consult your doctor.

What is HRT?

HRT stands for Hormone Replacement Therapy, a treatment used to alleviate symptoms of perimenopause and menopause by replacing the hormones that decline during this time. Symptoms of low hormone levels include hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety, mood swings, brain fog, and vaginal dryness. Over time, low hormone levels can increase the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, bowel cancer, and depression.

HRT not only helps improve these symptoms but also aids in preventing these long-term health issues.

Components of HRT

HRT typically involves two main hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is the primary hormone that helps alleviate menopausal symptoms. It is often administered through the skin via patches, gels, or sprays.

Progesterone (or a synthetic form called progestogen) is usually recommended for women who still have their womb to keep the uterine lining thin and healthy. This can be taken as a tablet or delivered via a Mirena coil.

Testosterone is occasionally prescribed to help with symptoms such as low libido, fatigue, and poor concentration.

Risks of HRT for All Women

For most women, the benefits of HRT outweigh the risks. The risks associated with HRT depend on the type of therapy, the woman’s age, and her overall health. It’s crucial to have a personalized consultation with your doctor to discuss your specific risks.

While some women worry about breast cancer when considering HRT, most types of HRT do not increase this risk. Research indicates that combined HRT (estrogen and progestogen) may carry a very slight increase in breast cancer risk, particularly with certain types of progestogens. However, taking micronized progesterone (body-identical progesterone) does not show an increased risk.

Even for those using synthetic progestogen, the increased risk is minimal and comparable to risks associated with other lifestyle factors, such as alcohol consumption or being overweight. Importantly, no studies have found that HRT increases the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Women who have had a hysterectomy and take estrogen alone may have a lower risk of breast cancer than those who do not take HRT. Additionally, women under 51 using any type of HRT do not show an increased risk of breast cancer.

Oral estrogen does carry a small risk of blood clots, but this risk is not present with transdermal estrogen (patch, gel, or spray).

HRT and Family History of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is relatively common, and many women have a family history of the disease. However, only about 10% of breast cancers are due to genetic or familial causes.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, it is important to discuss HRT with your doctor. A woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 7, meaning that 1 in 7 women will develop breast cancer, but not necessarily due to HRT. There is no substantial evidence to suggest that having a family history of breast cancer increases your risk from taking HRT compared to women without a family history.

In fact, some studies suggest that women with a family history of breast cancer who take HRT may have a lower future risk of developing the disease compared to those who do not take HRT. This includes women with BRCA gene mutations.

HRT can generally be taken safely by women with a family history of breast cancer, and many health benefits justify its use. Women can continue HRT indefinitely without needing to stop at a certain age.

Final Advice

To lower your risk of breast cancer:

• Maintain a healthy weight

• Exercise regularly

• Avoid smoking

• Limit alcohol intake

Regular self-examinations of your breasts for any unusual changes are also essential.

In conclusion, HRT can be a safe and beneficial option for women with a family history of breast cancer, provided it is managed with the guidance of a healthcare professional.


Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. (n.d.). Menopause and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).

Australasian Menopause Society (AMS). (n.d.). Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).

NHS. (n.d.). Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Balance menopause website

Dr Purity Carr

GP & Menopause Doctor

Harvey, WA

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