Newsletter - February 1998

Million Women Study meeting: May 20th, in Oxford

A meeting for collaborators will take place on the 20th of May 1998, at St Catherine’s College in Oxford. There will be talks about HRT and breast cancer as well as an update on the progress of the study, with time for discussion of any issues participants would like to raise. An invitation to attend this meeting is included with this newsletter- We hope you can come.

Collaborative paper confirms HRT and breast cancer link

The largest ever analysis of the relationship between HRT and breast cancer was published in the Lancet on the 11th of October and confirmed the previously suspected link between HRT and breast cancer. A copy of that report is enclosed. The study was a collaboration which pooled over 90% of the world-wide studies of HRT and breast cancer, and was based on evidence from 52,705 women with breast cancer and 108,411 women without breast cancer. It showed that women who are currently taking HRT have a 2.3% increase in their risk of breast cancer with every year of use, but that the effect is reduced as soon as HRT is stopped and has largely, if not wholly disappeared after about 5 years. The breast cancers in women taking HRT were found to be less advanced than those found in women not taking HRT.

While this study has answered many questions about the relationship between HRT and breast cancer, many important questions remain. Most of the studies in the collaborative group report were on oestrogen-only types of HRT (such as Premarin), whereas the majority of women in the UK are using combined oestrogen and progestagen HRT (such as Prempak C and Trisequens). As yet there is not enough information on these types of HRT to know their effect on breast cancer risk. The Million Women Study should more than triple the total world-wide evidence on combined types of HRT and should also help to clarify why the cancers in women taking HRT are less advanced than those in women not taking HRT. It will also be able to provide much needed information on how HRT affects breast screening itself.

Progress: Recruitment continues, Scotland comes on board.

The Million Women Study questionnaire is now being sent out by over 55 breast screening centres and the study has received ethical approval from over 120 ethics committees nation-wide. There are now many centres in Scotland participating, with East Scotland, South West, South East, North and North East Scotland all taking part. Thanks to centres throughout the UK, over 280,000 questionnaires have been received in Oxford and the study is on target to recruit 1,000,000 women over the next 3 years. The study is now recruiting over 30,000 women per month, one of the fastest rates of recruitment of any study, anywhere in the world.

Joan Austoker

Pilot study results published

The results of the pilot studies prior to the Million Women Study were published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (1998;52(2):116-119). The pilot studies involved over 6000 women and showed that the study questionnaire did not affect subsequent breast screening attendance. A reprint of this article is included with this newsletter. Thank you to the participating centres.

Newsletter - March 1997

Progress: Enthusiastic response from centres

The first participating breast screening centre began sending out questionnaires for The Million Women Study in May 1996. Thanks to the enthusiasm of staff at screening centres across the UK, there are now about 30 centres currently sending out questionnaires and 30 more in the process of joining them. In the past year over 80 ethics committees have approved the study. If recruitment continues at the current rate, the study should have recruited over 250,000 women by the end of 1997; already the largest number of women ever recruited into a study of this nature in the world.
Photograph "Performance 4: Roman Ondák", © 2009 Liz Mc. CC-BY 2.0.

Official Launch

The Million Women Study will be officially launched on Thursday 8th May, a year after the first questionnaires were sent out to women invited for breast screening. Baroness Cumberlege, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health will launch the study at the headquarters of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London. Julietta Patnick, the national co-ordinator of the Breast Screening Programme will also attend. The launch is taking place from 11.00am to 2.00pm and will be accompanied by presentations, press briefings and a luncheon; all interested breast screening centres are invited to send representatives (see form below).

HRT use: higher than expected

Preliminary results confirm pilot study findings of high and increasing use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) among women of screening age. In many centres, about a third of women aged 50-64 are current HRT users and a further 14% have used it at some stage in the past. The fact that a large number of women are now using HRT makes it even more important to find out what effects HRT has on a woman’s breasts and her risk of developing breast cancer.

New questionnaire

Staff at the Million Women Study Co-ordinating Centre in Oxford have been working on a new version of the questionnaire, which will soon be available to screening centres. The new questionnaire is slightly narrower and is printed on lighter paper, making it easier to fit into envelopes. It has a column format, which should be easier to fill out and the paler background will help with electronic storage and interpretation. A question about breast feeding has been added.