Estrogen used alone (estrogen replacement therapy [ERT]) or with the addition of progesterone (hormone replacement therapy [HRT]) is known to be effective in reducing menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, vaginal dryness and urinary symptoms. It has been traditionally contraindicated, however, in women with a previous diagnosis of breast cancer because of fear that it may increase the risk of recurrence. There are considerable basic scientific data but little methodologically strong observational data and none from randomized studies concerning the use of ERT in women with a prior diagnosis of breast cancer. From our knowledge of the physiology of breast cancer, however, estrogen and/or progestational agents should be used with caution in women with a previous diagnosis of breast cancer. There are currently many alternatives to ERT/HRT in the prevention of menopausal symptoms such as vitamin E, clonidine and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants such as venlafaxine. There are also a variety of other approaches to the prevention of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease including bisphosphonates, diet, and exercise; and diet, exercise, and statins, respectively. Other suggested beneficial effects of estrogen such as colon cancer prevention can be approached by the use of aspirin or the non-steroidals. Several trials of ERT/HRT used for 2 years versus no therapy in menopausal women with a previous diagnosis of breast cancer are ongoing in Europe and Britain, and should give us stronger data as to the role of HRT in this setting.