By Kate Mack,NE
On July 9, the Woman’s Health Initiative abruptly halted a hormone replacement study because they found that the drugs caused a slight but significant increase in the risk of invasive breast cancer. Although the danger to an individual woman is tiny the drugs’ risks exceed their benefits. (San Francisco Chronicle, July 9,2001)
An estimated 6 million women take the drugs estrogen and progestin to replace the hormones lost at menopause. This is 38% of postmenopausal women. It was hoped that this study would prove that no only do the drugs relieve hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness but that they improve women’s health overall. The study’s investigators reported that this did not happen. The directors of the study, known as the Women’s Health Initiative, sent letters to the study’s 16,000 participants telling them to stop taking their medications. The risk of breast cancer rose by 26% in women on the combined therapy for just over five years, while heart disease risk rose by 29% and there was a 41% increase in the risk of stroke. However, there were fewer colorectal cancers and fewer hip fractures reported. (San Francisco Chronicle, July 9,2001)
This study is a bombshell for those that once thought HRT was a way for women to remain forever young. However, the study did not address the question of estrogen alone, without progestin. The Women’s Health Initiative will continue a study of 11,000 women taking just estrogen since there is no evidence so far that the drug’s risks exceed its benefits.
On July 17 there was another report on HRT. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that in a study conducted by the National Cancer Institute 44,000 women taking estrogen alone where found to have a 60% higher risk of ovarian cancer than women who had never used estrogen. Those on the hormone therapy for 20 years or more were three times as likely to develop ovarian cancer as women who did not take it at all. (health.webmd. aol.com/condition)
The decision to use estrogen for hormone replacement therapy is difficult. Providing relief from hot flashes as well as slowing down the rate of osteoporosis, versus the potential side effects such as increased risk of endometrial cancer and possibly an increase of breast cancer are issues a woman needs to think about.
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