Open Access Open Badges Research article

Breast cancer risk associated with different HRT formulations: a register-based case-control study

Juergen C Dinger, Lothar AJ Heinemann*, Sabine Möhner, Do Minh Thai and Anita Assmann

Author Affiliations

Centre for Epidemiology & Health Research Berlin, Invalidenstr. 115, 10115 Berlin, Germany

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Women's Health 2006, 6:13  doi:10.1186/1472-6874-6-13

Published: 12 September 2006



Previous epidemiological studies have inconsistently shown a modestly increased breast cancer risk associated with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Limited information is available about different formulations – particularly concerning different progestins.


A case-control study was performed within Germany in collaboration with regional cancer registries and tumor centers. Up to 5 controls were matched breast cancer cases. Conditional logistic regression analysis was applied to estimate crude and adjusted odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI). Stratified analyses were performed to compare the risk of different estrogens, progestins, and combinations.


A total of 3593 cases of breast cancer were identified and compared with 9098 controls. The adjusted overall risk estimate for breast cancer (BC) associated with current or past use of HRT was 1.2 (1.1–1.3), and almost identical for lag times from 6 months to 6 years prior to diagnosis. No significant trend of increasing BC risk was found with increasing duration of HRT use, or time since first or last use in aggregate. Many established BC risk factors significantly modified the effect of HRT on BC risk, particularly first-degree family history of BC, higher age, lower education, higher body mass index (BMI), and never having used oral contraceptives (OCs) during lifetime.

Whereas the overall risk estimates were stable, the numbers in many of the sub-analyses of HRT formulation groups (estrogens, progestins, and combinations) were too small for strong conclusions. Nevertheless, the BC risk seems not to vary much across HRT formulation subgroups. In particular, no substantial difference in BC risk was observed between HRT containing conjugated equine estrogens (CEE) or medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) and other formulations more common in Europe.


The BC risk of HRT use is rather small. Low risk estimates for BC and a high potential for residual confounding and bias in this observational study do not permit causal conclusions. Apparently, there is not much variation of the BC risk across HRT formulations (estrogens, progestins). However, the small numbers and the overlapping nature of some of the subgroups suggest cautious interpretation.