(January 18, 2007) Hear the audio version

I was fixing breakfast when I heard the news about the dramatic drop in breast cancer rates from 2002 to 2003 – 7 percent nationwide, 11 percent in California. Turn up the radio, stop the presses! After years of attending memorial services for our friends, holding our mothers’ hands during their chemotherapy treatments, and wondering “Who’s next?” or “Will I be that one in eight who gets it?” there was an actual decline in breast cancer incidence – the first since 1945. The hypothesis? Millions of women stopped hormone replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms in 2002 after a national study concluded that it slightly increased breast cancer risk. Stop taking hormones, and the fuel supply for certain tumors is cut off. This could explain the higher-than-average breast cancer rate, and subsequent drop, in places like Marin County, where more women have access to health care, and hormone therapy was standard – until four years ago.

Fortunately, I’m not one of the thousands who took hormones and also developed breast cancer. I’d be mad as hell if I had, even if the relationship between the two isn’t yet confirmed. Doctors were far too eager to prescribe hormones for what is a normal, natural change in women’s bodies.

I take breast cancer seriously, and personally. It killed my aunt. My mother has had two kinds of breast cancer. So when my younger cousin was diagnosed with it three years ago, I consulted the oncologist I credit with keeping my dear mother alive. She recommended I begin taking tamoxifen, which blocksestrogen. So long menstrual periods, hello hot flashes! Suddenly I knew quite well why women had asked for hormone replacements. But . . . I’ve decided to live with that space-heater feeling that suddenly comes over me. So have millions of other post-menopausal women who, ten years ago, might have been on hormone replacement therapy. Be patient with us. We’re trying to stick around so our children can take care of us in our oldage.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.