Intense menopausal hot flashes tied to lower risk of breast cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Breast cancer

Women who experience the most misery from menopausal symptoms may be at lower risk for breast cancer.

Cancer researchers found intense hot flashes were linked to protection from the two most common forms of breast cancer, compared to women who don't experience symptoms.

Christopher I. Li, M.D., Ph.D., a breast cancer epidemiologist in the Fred Hutchinson Center’s Public Health Sciences Division says menopause symptoms have an even greater protective effect when they are more frequent and severe.

Li said, “In particular we found that women who experienced more intense hot flushes – the kind that woke them up at night – had a particularly low risk of breast cancer,”

The researchers interviewed 1,437 postmenopausal women in the Seattle area – 988 had previously been diagnosed with breast cancer and 449 had not. All the women were questioned about symptoms related to peri-menopause and menopause, including vaginal dryness, depression insomnia, night sweats, hot flashes, anxiety and vaginal bleeding.


The findings revealed women with more severe menopausal symptoms had lower chances of invasive ductal and invasive lobular carcinoma that are the two most common types of breast cancer. The reduced risk was 40 to 60 percent.

The authors concluded, "This is the first study to report that women who ever experienced menopausal symptoms have a substantially reduced risk of breast cancer, and that severity of hot flushes is also inversely associated with risk."

Even after adjusting for factors like obesity and use of hormone replacement therapy, the results were the same.

The authors suspected since estrogen and progesterone promote breast cancer, there must be an association between the severity of menopause symptoms that might be related to breast cancer risk.

The findings, published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, found that women who experience hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms are up to 60 percent less likely to develop the two most common types of breast cancer. In women who have more intense menopausal symptoms, the risk reduction is even more substantial.

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev Published OnlineFirst January 6, 2011; doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-10-0998