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HEALTH REPORT - Breast Cancer in US Stayed Down in '04 for Second Year

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Last year, researchers reported that breast cancer rates in the United States dropped in two thousand three. That was after about twenty years of rising. Many experts linked the drop to a sharp reduction in the use of hormone replacement therapy for older women.

The researchers found that breast cancer rates dropped by almost seven percent between two thousand two and two thousand three. Now, they have just reported that the decreased rates were also present in two thousand four.

Breast cancer rates were at their lowest level since about nineteen eighty-seven, they say. But they also say that in two thousand four there was little additional decrease.

The study found that the drop was mostly in women age fifty to sixty-nine. And it was mostly in the kind of breast cancer fed by estrogen. Estrogen is one of the hormones given to women in hormone replacement therapy, or HRT.

The use of HRT began to drop soon after a major study appeared in two thousand two. The Women's Health Initiative study found that the therapy did not protect against heart disease, as had been thought. Instead, it found that hormone replacement increased the risk for some kinds of cancer, as well as heart attacks and other problems.

The use of hormone replacement therapy dropped almost forty percent soon after that report appeared.

The latest findings about breast cancer rates appeared last week in the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers used information gathered by the National Cancer Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health.

Peter Radvin and Donald Berry of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center led the research. Doctor Radvin notes that the kind of study they did cannot prove that hormone replacement therapy causes breast cancer.

And both researchers say they are not suggesting that all women stop the therapy. Doctor Radvin says he will continue to advise his patients to use the lowest strength of hormones for the shortest time possible.

Critics of the study include Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, a maker of hormone replacements. One question, it says, is why breast cancer rates leveled off in two thousand four even though use of the therapy continued to drop. The company says the reduction in breast cancer rates could have been the result of something unrelated to the drugs.

And that's the Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein.

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