Breast cancer: Women’s cycle length during menopause transition increases risk says study

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Women’s menstrual cycle length could be a key factor for increased risk of breast cancer, says a new study. Compared with women with a median menstrual cycle length, women who had cycles of extreme length had a nearly twofold increased incidence of breast cancer.

Menstrual cycle length has been associated with different chronic conditions, including breast cancer, the new study found.

The study suggests that changes in cycle length specifically during the menopause transition may also predict a woman’s risk of developing atherosclerosis after menopause.

Study results are published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

Other health conditions impacted by menstrual cycle length include osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.

Reproductive hormone levels vary greatly depending on the timing of ovulation and the length of the cycle, which could be a reason for this added risk.

It has also been suggested that cycle length could be an important marker for cumulative hormone exposure during a reproductive lifetime.

Cumulative oestrogen exposure varies by cycle length compared with women with normal-length cycles as opposed to women with short cycles.

A woman with frequent menstrual cycles (short cycles) will spend more of her reproductive years with higher oestrogen levels than a woman with very long cycles because the early follicular phase of the cycle is characterised by relatively less oestrogen secretion and is the more variable portion of the cycle.

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Previous studies have already shown that women with irregular or long menstrual cycles have greater cardiovascular disease risk.

In addition, a long menstrual cycle (more than 40 days) has been identified as a potential risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes.

Often the average menstrual cycle length begins to increase rapidly starting at four years before the final menstrual period.

Findings to date assumed that all women experience one common trajectory of menstrual cycle length change over the menopause transition.

However, as women go through menopause, it’s possible that they could experience a variety of patterns or changes in menstrual cycle length.

But no known previous studies considered the effect of different patterns of menstrual cycle length during the menopause transition until now.

Doctor Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director said of the discovery: “This study highlights that menstrual cycle length over the menopause transition may be another factor to consider when assessing cardiovascular risk in women.

“These findings are consistent with prior studies that link irregular menses with cardiovascular disease risk, potentially because of lower mean oestrogen levels associated with fewer ovulations.

“Patterns of menstrual cycle length over the menopause transition are associated with subclinical atherosclerosis after menopause.”
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