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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009 Aug;18(8):2207-13. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-09-0298.

The use of herbal preparations to alleviate climacteric disorders and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer in a German case-control study.

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  • 1Institute for Medical Biometry and Epidemiology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, [corrected] Germany.

Erratum in

  • Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009 Sep;18(9):2567.



The use of herbal preparations (HEP) to alleviate climacteric disorders is expected to increase as women seek alternatives to menopausal hormone therapy to avoid the associated breast cancer risk. Data are sparse on the long-term effects of HEP containing phytoestrogens and black cohosh on breast cancer risk.


Within a German case-control study, associations between patterns of HEP use and incident breast cancer were investigated in 10,121 postmenopausal women (3,464 cases, 6,657 controls). Information on HEP use was collected in face-to-face interviews supported by a list of brand names. Multivariate logistic and polytomous regression analyses were done.


Ever use of HEP (9.9%) was inversely associated with invasive breast cancer [odds ratio (OR), 0.74; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.63-0.87] in a dose-dependent manner (OR, 0.96 per year of use; P = 0.03). Classes of HEP did not differ significantly (P(heterogeneity) = 0.81). Risks for invasive ductal (OR, 0.72; 95% CI, 0.60-0.87) and combined lobular/mixed/tubular tumors (OR, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.58-1.01) were similarly reduced by any HEP use but not for in situ carcinomas (1.34; 95% CI, 0.86-2.09). There were no substantial differences in associations of HEP use by estrogen receptor status (ER(+) OR, 0.74; 95% CI, 0.62-0.89; ER- OR, 0.68, 95% CI, 0.50-0.93) and progesterone receptor status of the tumor.


Our findings support the hypothesis that HEP use protects from invasive breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Among conceivable modes of action, those independent of estrogen receptor-mediated pathways seem to be involved (i.e., cytotoxicity, apoptosis).

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