Hormone Replacement Therapy Risks Outweigh Benefits, Analysis Finds

Hormone Replacement Therapy Risks Outweigh Benefits, Analysis FindsAnalysis conducted by a federal task force has found that hormone replacement  therapy’s (HRT) risks outweigh its benefits, specifically in certain women and for certain reasons.

Risks appear to apply to healthy post-menopausal women taking HRT to stave off dementia, bone fractures, or cardiac disease, said the LA Times. These women should not use HRT, said the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The recommendation, explained the LA Times, is not geared to women who use HRT to help with menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Information on the risks versus benefits of HRT for these uses is planned to be included in report by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The current recommendation was just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and is largely based on a revised review of the massive 2002 Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). The major study was conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and determined that some HRT medications significantly increased risks of stroke, blood clots, heart attacks, and breast cancer. The results were so alarming that the NIH canceled the study, citing risk to the study’s participants. WHI study researchers also suggested that many of the women who used the medications should quit and talk to their doctors about alternatives. Over 6 million women have been prescribed these medications.

Meanwhile, in the 10 years since WHI was ceased, some early and conflicting studies suggested that some post-menopausal women taking HRT might experience benefits via reduced bone fractures and reductions in dementia and heart disease, said the LA Times. The new study found limited proof that hormones protect against bone fractures, that there was no evidence that hormones reduce heart disease, and that HRT actually was linked to an increase in dementia.

The panel also discussed new risks such as a significantly increased risk for life-threatening blood clots in the legs and lungs and increased likelihood for gallbladder disease and urinary incontinence, which was seen in the studies for at least three years, said the LA Times.

According to the task force, the decision against HRT in the prevention of chronic diseases was based what it described as “at least fair” evidence that harm outweighed benefits, or that use was ineffective, said the LA Times. The panel said that it looked at two areas for potential harm and benefits, reviewing standard hormone therapy—the commonly used estrogen and progestin—and estrogen alone, which is only prescribed for women who have had their uterus removed. While estrogen alone appears to offer some benefits versus the estrogen-progestin combination, for post-menopausal women, estrogen provided limited protection against breast cancer, although the reasons why are not known, said the LA Times. Only women who have undergone hysterectomies can take estrogen alone because of its links to uterine cancer.

Meanwhile, we recently wrote that three breast cancer victims were awarded $72 million in damages following allegations they developed breast cancer after taking Pfizer Inc.’s menopause drug, Prempro. Hormone therapy drugs like Prempro, Premarin, and Provera are used to treat hot flashes and other menopause symptoms. At one time, Pfizer faced around 10,000 lawsuits involving its hormone medications, Prempro and Premarin.

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