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New breast cancer scares spark stampede from HRT

GPs and patients have been scared off HRT in the wake of two high-profile studies linking the therapy to breast cancer, experts claim.

Prescribing rates have dropped by almost a fifth in England and 15 per cent in Scotland since the US-led Women's Health Initiative study was aborted in July 2002, according to researchers in Dundee. The WHI found significantly increased rates of breast cancer in women taking HRT.

Professor Tom MacDonald, professor of clinical pharmacoepidemiology at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, who presented the figures at an HRT conference in Scotland last month, said: 'The bottom line is a lot of

people are stopping the drugs as a

result of the WHI study. There is

no doubt the scares have affected prescribing rates.'

Specialists have also warned GPs have been further discouraged by the more recent Million Women Study that revealed in August that HRT could double the risk of breast cancer if taken for 10 years.

Dr Peter Selby, consultant endicronologist at Manchester Royal Infirmary, said he believed between a third and half of women on HRT had come off it or were coming off it as a result of recent adverse publicity.

'It's clearly a bad thing people stop HRT without some consideration for the potential benefits, predominantly bone benefits ­ one of the few areas where it is shown to be beneficial,' he added.

Dr Mark Garton, a consultant in general medicine at Perth Royal Infirmary who attended the Scottish HRT conference, said anecdotal evidence suggested the Million Women Study had already had a negative impact on GP prescribing rates.

'It is predominantly that GPs are reluctant to prescribe it, whereas women have been relatively relaxed about breast health scares,' he added.

Researchers in Dundee also found wide variations in HRT prescribing rates across Scotland, ranging from 16 prescriptions per 100 women in the Western Isles to 28 per 100 women in Dumfries.

This was influenced by factors including socio-economic status, population age and presence of gynaecologists or GPs in favour of HRT.

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