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Menopause is a natural event and so, understandably, many women are keen to use complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) to try to manage symptoms such as hot flushes. However, all therapies, including CAMs like herbals, carry risks. Many women resist taking hormone therapy for fear that it might accelerate the appearance of breast cancer. But how safe are CAMs and do they affect breast cancer risk? Obi and colleagues [1] recently performed a case-controlled study of 10,121 postmenopausal women – 3464 women with a personal history of breast cancer risk and 6657 controls without cancer. The women were interviewed and demographic data collected including their use of herbal remedies. Women were considered ‘ever’ users of herbal preparations (HEP) if they reported use for more than 3 months. Ever-users were considered ‘current’ users if HEP was used within 6 months of the referent date. Multivariate and regression analyses were performed. Ever-use of menopause herbals (9.9% of subjects) was associated with a decreased risk of developing breast cancer (odds ratio (OR) 0.74, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.63–0.87). No particular type of herbal therapy was particularly linked to this reduced risk of breast cancer.


  • John Eden
    School of Women and Childrens Health, Royal Hospital for Women, Sydney, Australia


  1. Obi N, Chang-Claude J, Berger J, et al. The use of herbal preparations to alleviate climacteric disorders and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer in a German case-control study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2009;18:220713. Published August, 2009.
  2. Rebbeck TR, Troxel AB, Norman S, et al. A retrospective case-control study of the use of hormone-related supplements and association with breast cancer. Int J Cancer 2007;120:15238.
  3. Einbond LS, Shimizu M, Xiao D, et al. Growth inhibitory activity of extracts and purified components of black cohosh on human breast cancer cells. Breast Cancer Res Treat 2004;83:22131.
  4. Ruhlen RL, Haubner J, Tracey JK, et al. Black cohosh does not exert an estrogenic effect on the breast. Nutrition Cancer 2007;59:269-77.
  5. Hirschberg AL, Edlund M, Svane G, et al. An isopropanolic extract of black cohosh does not increase mammographic breast density or breast cell proliferation in postmenopausal women. Menopause 2007;14: 89-96
  6. Jacobson JS, Traxel AB, Evans J, et al. Randomized trial of black cohosh for the treatment of hot flashes among women with a history of breast cancer. J Clin Oncol 2001;19:2739-45
  7. Nedrow A, Miller J, Walker M, et al. Complementary and alternative therapies for the management of menopause-related symptoms: a systematic evidence review. Arch Intern Med 2006;166:1453-65
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