Hormone Injection Linked To Increased Brain Tumour Risk

meningioma treatment - injecting hormones to belly

A new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has identified a link between an injectable hormone and a heightened risk of brain tumours. The research was carried out in France, and included a team from the French National Agency for Medicines and Health Products Safety.

The study found that women who were using certain progesterone medications as contraception, or to manage gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome, were at increased risk of developing meningioma, a type of brain tumour. 

According to ITV News, there are around 10,000 NHS prescriptions for the medication, known as medroxyprogesterone acetate, every month in England. The new research has identified a further eight forms of progesterone that are used by millions of women worldwide as being a potential brain tumour risk. However, the risk is described as ‘very small.’

Previous research has shown that a high dosage of progesterone has been linked to a greater risk of meningioma. Reassuringly, the authors of the study said the association did not apply to the most commonly used progesterones in the UK. It may be applicable to some injectable forms, also known as Depo-Provera, which is used as contraception.

Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in the US, said: “The authors note that causality cannot be determined in an observational study such as this but, given what we know about the risk factors for meningioma, it seems quite likely that the association reported for medroxyprogesterone acetate is causal.”

He added: “It is important to note that progestogens are an important component of many types of birth control pill (oral contraceptives) and hormone replacement therapy but there are many different types of progestogens and no association with meningioma was found for the types of progestogens commonly used in the United Kingdom.”

“This means that women taking the commonly used birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy are not at increased risk of meningioma. It is important that women do not stop using their birth control pills without consulting their doctor.”

Meningiomas are a type of brain tumour that develop in the membranes that cover the brain, and are usually slow-growing and benign (non-cancerous). According to The Brain Tumour Charity, about 27 per cent of all brain tumours diagnosed are meningiomas, and they are more common in women than in men.

Although meningiomas are non-cancerous, they can compress the brain tissue, which causes a range of troublesome symptoms. These might include headaches; changes in vision; memory loss or difficulty in planning ahead or processing new information; loss of smell; seizures; and weakness in the limbs.

Research is ongoing into the risk factors for meningiomas, but the link with female hormones has previously been noted. Occasionally, they can grow faster during pregnancy. There is also an increased risk for women who are overweight or obese, which is thought to be because fatty tissue stimulates the production of female hormones. 

 The treatment of meningiomas will depend on the grade, which is on a scale of one to four. The majority of meningiomas are grades one and two, and there are no cancerous grade four meningioma tumours. The treatment will also depend on the size and location of the tumour, and the age and general health of the patient.

Grade one tumours may be actively monitored, while grade two and three tumours may be treated with a combination of surgery and radiotherapy. 

Dr Karen Noble, director of research, policy and innovation at Brain Tumour Research, said: “Any increased understanding of the risk factors of brain tumours is beneficial to the brain tumour community; it may open doors to research on preventative measures, as well as increase our understanding of why these tumours arise in the first place.”

“However, the public needs to be cautious when digesting the results from a study such as this before taking action. Although this study has linked certain progestogen treatments to an increased risk of meningioma, it has also demonstrated the safety of other progestogen treatments which were shown to not increase risk.”

Dr Noble emphasised that women should always speak to their doctor before stopping any medication.

For more information about the treatment of meningioma, please contact Mr Patrick Grover of Amethyst Radiotherapy.