Menopausal hormone therapy was once thought to be a safe and effective treatment for many conditions women face as they age including heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer. However, July 2002 clinical trials* involving estrogen plus progestin therapy increased women’s risk for heart attack, stroke, blood clots, breast cancer, and even dementia. The results were not completely negative, however, as it appears to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and bone fractures.
Estrogen-alone therapy trials** showed increased risk for stroke and venous thrombosis (blood clot, usually in one of the deep veins of the legs) with no effect on heart disease, colorectal cancer, memory loss, and an uncertain effect on breast cancer. Again, there appeared to be a reduced risk of bone fractures.
What does this mean?
Estrogen or estrogen plus progestin should not be used to prevent heart disease. Speak with your doctor about other ways of preventing heart attack and stroke, including lifestyle changes, nutritional supplements and medicines.
If you are considering using menopausal hormone therapy to prevent osteoporosis, speak with your doctor weighing the benefits agains the risks for heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer. Don’t forget to ask your doctor about alternative treatments that are safe and effective in preventing osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Do not take menopausal hormone therapy to prevent dementia or memory loss.
If you are considering menopausal hormone therapy to provide relief from menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, talk with your doctor about whether this treatment is right for you. The current U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommendation for menopausal hormone therapy is that it should be used at the lowest dose for the shortest period of time to reach treatment goals. Assumeably, this is because of the risks associated with the treatment.
*The clinical trial findings for menopausal hormone therapy come from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI).