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J Natl Cancer Inst. 1997 Aug 6;89(15):1110-6.

Estrogen-progestin replacement therapy and endometrial cancer.

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  • 1Department of Preventive Medicine, USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles, CA 90033-0800, USA.



It has been known for more than 20 years that estrogen replacement therapy substantially increases a woman's risk of developing endometrial cancer. To reduce this increased risk, progestins have been added to estrogen replacement therapy for between 5 and 15 days (usually 7 or 10 days) per "month" in a sequential fashion (sequential estrogen-progestin replacement therapy) or with each dose of estrogen replacement therapy (continuous combined replacement therapy). At the present time, however, little is known about the effects of varying the number of days that progestin is used in sequential estrogen-progestin replacement therapy.


We sought to determine the effects of sequential estrogen-progestin replacement therapy and continuous combined replacement therapy on a woman's risk of developing endometrial cancer.


A population-based, case-control study of 833 case subjects and 791 control subjects was conducted. Women were postmenopausal, white, and aged 50-74 years when first diagnosed with invasive endometrial cancer or were aged 50-74 years at the matching date for control subjects. All subjects were interviewed in person with the aid of a month-by-month calendar. Relative risks were estimated by odds ratios (ORs); ORs were adjusted simultaneously for the different forms of hormone replacement therapy and for the known endometrial cancer risk factors.


The adjusted OR was 2.17 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.91-2.47) per 5 years of estrogen replacement therapy use (based on 422 users among the case subjects and 262 users among the control subjects). For women who received sequential estrogen-progestin replacement therapy with the progestin given for less than 10 days (effectively 7 days) per month, the adjusted OR was only slightly reduced to 1.87 (95% CI = 1.32-2.65) per 5 years of use (74 case subjects and 47 control subjects). However, when progestin was given for 10 or more days (effectively 10 days), there was essentially no increased risk (adjusted OR = 1.07 per 5 years of use; 95% CI = 0.82-1.41) (79 case subjects and 88 control subjects). Continuous combined replacement therapy was also associated with essentially no increased risk (adjusted OR = 1.07 per 5 years of use; 95% CI = 0.80-1.43) (94 case subjects and 81 control subjects).


The progestin in sequential estrogen-progestin replacement therapy needs to be given for at least 10 days to block effectively any increased risk of endometrial cancer. Continuous combined estrogen-progestin therapy is similarly effective. Neither regimen reduces a woman's underlying risk of endometrial cancer. The sharp distinction between the effects of less than 10 days (effectively 7 days) and 10 or more days (effectively 10 days) of progestin use in sequential estrogen-progestin replacement therapy suggests that the extent of endometrial sloughing may play a critical role in determining endometrial cancer risk.

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