Early menopause (menopause before age 40) is often viewed as a kiss of death, especially among women who desire children (or more children) or rightly feel that it’s not yet ‘their time.’ More importantly, early menopause has been linked to a number of serious health conditions, including osteoporosis, heart disease and osteoporosis. But there is good news in the mix: it appears that early menopause may possibly reduce the risk of breast cancer in women under the age of 50. In fact, in a study aptly named the Two Sister Study, researchers compared 1,422 women with breast cancer who were diagnosed before age 50 and 1,669 case ‘sisters’who were free of breast cancer. The women were asked if they had experienced hot flashes, poor sleep, night sweats, irritability or depression and were asked specifically about the age when these symptoms first began. All participants were similar with regard to race, education, childbirth, breastfeeding experiences, cigarette smoking and alcohol intake.
Almost a third of the women who had menopausal symptoms before their they were either diagnosed with breast cancer or before their first interview. These women were likelier to have had a hysterectomy. And 30% who had hot flashes before the average age also reported that they had used hormone replacement therapy. Most importantly, however, women who had menopausal type symptoms before the age of 50 had half the odds of their peers of developing breast cancer, in particular, estrogen-positive breast cancer. This protection tended to decline the older that women became.
What do these findings mean? Undoubtedly it is important to consider factors that could influence the findings, such as age at first menopause or first birth, BMI, use of hormones, drinking and smoking. None of these variables appeared to affect the results. Second, self-reports are sometimes not entirely accurate yet the researchers accounted for this bias in their analysis.
So, today, I am reporting some quite good news. Early menopause can be devastating. But it may confer important protection against breast cancer and that is a very good thing!