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European Code against Cancer 4th Edition: Medical exposures, including hormone therapy, and cancer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S107-S119
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


The 4th edition of the European Code against Cancer recommends limiting – or avoiding when possible – the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) because of the increased risk of cancer, nevertheless acknowledging that prescription of HRT may be indicated under certain medical conditions. Current evidence shows that HRT, generally prescribed as menopausal hormone therapy, is associated with an increased risk of cancers of the breast, endometrium, and ovary, with the risk pattern depending on factors such as the type of therapy (oestrogen-only or combined oestrogen–progestogen), duration of treatment, and initiation according to the time of menopause. Carcinogenicity has also been established for anti-neoplastic agents used in cancer therapy, immunosuppressants, oestrogen–progestogen contraceptives, and tamoxifen. Medical use of ionising radiation, an established carcinogen, can provide major health benefits; however, prudent practices need to be in place, with procedures and techniques providing the needed diagnostic information or therapeutic gain with the lowest possible radiation exposure. For pharmaceutical drugs and medical radiation exposure with convincing evidence on their carcinogenicity, health benefits have to be balanced against the risks; potential increases in long-term cancer risk should be considered in the context of the often substantial and immediate health benefits from diagnosis and/or treatment. Thus, apart from HRT, no general recommendations on reducing cancer risk were given for carcinogenic drugs and medical radiation in the 4th edition of European Code against Cancer. It is crucial that the application of these measures relies on medical expertise and thorough benefit–risk evaluation. This also pertains to cancer-preventive drugs, and self-medication with aspirin or other potential chemopreventive drugs is strongly discouraged because of the possibility of serious, potentially lethal, adverse events.

ASJC Scopus subject areas


  • Breast cancer, Cancer, radiation-induced, Chemoprevention, Diagnostic X-rays, Europe, Hormone replacement therapy, Ionising radiation, Pharmaceuticals, Prevention and control