Endometrial cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women worldwide and most commonly occurs after the menopause (75%) (globocan.iarc.fr). About 319,000 new cases were diagnosed worldwide in 2012. Endometrial cancer is commonly considered as a potentially 'curable cancer,' as approximately 75% of cases are diagnosed before disease has spread outside the uterus (FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics) stage I). The overall five-year survival for all stages is about 86%, and, if the cancer is confined to the uterus, the five-year survival rate may increase to 97%. The majority of women diagnosed with endometrial cancer have early-stage disease, leading to a good prognosis after hysterectomy and removal of the ovaries (oophorectomy), with or without radiotherapy. However, women may have early physiological and psychological postmenopausal changes, either pre-existing or as a result of oophorectomy, depending on age and menopausal status at the time of diagnosis. Lack of oestrogen can cause hot flushes, night sweats, genital tract atrophy and longer-term adverse effects, such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. These changes may be temporarily managed by using oestrogens, in the form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However, there is a theoretical risk of promoting residual tumour cell growth and increasing cancer recurrence. Therefore, this is a potential survival disadvantage in a woman who has a potentially curable cancer. In premenopausal women with endometrial cancer, treatment induces early menopause and this may adversely affect overall survival. Additionally, most women with early-stage disease will be cured of their cancer, making longer-term quality of life (QoL) issues more pertinent. Following bilateral oophorectomy, premenopausal women may develop significant and debilitating menopausal symptoms, so there is a need for information about the risk and benefits of taking HRT, enabling women to make an informed decision, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of using HRT for their individual circumstances.
To assess the risks and benefits of HRT (oestrogen alone or oestrogen with progestogen) for women previously treated for endometrial cancer.
We searched the Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL 2017, Issue 5), MEDLINE (1946 to April, week 4, 2017) and Embase (1980 to 2017, week 18). We also searched registers of clinical trials, abstracts of scientific meetings and reference lists of review articles.
We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs), in all languages, that examined the efficacy of symptom relief and the safety of using HRT in women treated for endometrial cancer, where safety in this situation was considered as not increasing the risk of recurrence of endometrial cancer above that of women not taking HRT.
Data collection and analysis
Two review authors independently assessed whether potentially relevant studies met the inclusion criteria. We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane.
We identified 2190 unique records, evaluated the full text of seven studies and included one study with 1236 participants. This study reported tumour recurrence in 2.3% of women in the oestrogen arm versus 1.9% of women receiving placebo (risk ratio (RR) 1.17, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.54 to 2.50; very low-certainty evidence). The study reported one woman in the HRT arm (0.16%) and three women in the placebo arm (0.49%) who developed breast cancer (new malignancy) during follow-up (RR 0.80, 95% CI 0.32 to 2.01; 1236 participants, 1 study; very low-certainty evidence). The study did not report on symptom relief, overall survival or progression-free survival for HRT versus placebo. However, they did report the percentage of women alive with no evidence of disease (94.3% in the HRT group and 95.6% in the placebo group) and the percentage of women alive irrespective of disease progression (95.8% in the HRT group and 96.9% in the placebo group) at the end of the 36 months' follow-up. The study did not report time to recurrence and it was underpowered due to closing early. The authors closed it as a result of the publication of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study, which, at that time, suggested that risks of exogenous hormone therapy outweighed benefits and had an impact on study recruitment. No assessment of efficacy was reported.
Currently, there is insufficient high-quality evidence to inform women considering HRT after treatment for endometrial cancer. The available evidence (both the single RCT and non-randomised evidence) does not suggest significant harm, if HRT is used after surgical treatment for early-stage endometrial cancer. There is no information available regarding use of HRT in higher-stage endometrial cancer (FIGO stage II and above). The use of HRT after endometrial cancer treatment should be individualised, taking account of the woman's symptoms and preferences, and the uncertainty of evidence for and against HRT use.