HRT: Friend or Foe?IN NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN MEDICINE
For decades millions of American women have been taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to relieve menopause symptoms. In addition, many more have continued to use HRT in hopes of reaping other health benefits, namely a lower risk of heart disease. However, new research released this summer suggests that HRT may not be the cure-all once thought. The findings came from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a 15-year study of American women sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in collaboration with other units of the National Institutes of Health. The major focus of WHI is on ways to prevent heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and osteoporosis. Begun in 1991, the entire study is following more than 161,000 women. Within that number, many smaller studies are currently underway, including one on the affects of HRT. The main goal of the HRT study was to determine if hormone replacement after menopause actually helps prevent heart disease and hip fractures. Both of these are major health concerns for post-menopausal women, and both appear to be affected by the amount of estrogen in a woman’s body. A secondary goal was to see if the possible benefits outweighed the possible risks for breast cancer, endometrial cancer, and blood clots. Specifically, researchers investigated estrogen plus progestin therapy, with 16,608 women participating in the study. Now they’ve stopped the study after only five years. According to researchers, the estrogen/progestin HRT’s risks outweighed its benefits. Another study is currently underway to measure the affects of estrogen-only HRT. The estrogen/progestin therapy did not protect against heart attacks, though it does appear to reduce the risk of hip fractures in post-menopausal women. Other study results include the following:
- 26 percent increase in breast cancer
- 41 percent increase in strokes
- 29 percent increase in heart attacks
- doubled rates of blood clots in legs and lungs
- 37 percent less colorectal cancer
- 34 percent fewer hip fractures and 24 percent less total fractures.
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