Estrogen Therapy Works Best in Younger Women
(NEW YORK) -- A reappraisal of the National Institutes of Health's Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study has found that "the age when women start hormone replacement therapy makes a huge difference," in risk of cancer and heart disease, according to Dr. Robert Langer, lead author of the reassessment, which was published in the journal Climacteric.
Researchers said "mass fear" left millions of women to needlessly suffer from menopause symptoms without the benefits of hormone replacement therapy when researchers of the WHI study found that women who took estrogen were at higher risk of certain cancers and heart disease.
New data showed that the risks only apply to older menopausal women who begin taking the medication late into menopause.
"The balance is towards benefit for women with hot flashes and other reasons to use it who start within 10 years of menopause," said Langer. "But it's not beneficial for most women who start about 10 years or more into menopause."
Prior to the 2002 study, some research found that the menopausal hormone therapy actually helped to decrease the risk of heart disease, but the 2002 preliminary data found the treatment did not decrease risk and put women at increased risk of some invasive breast cancers and stroke. Prior to the study results, hormones were one of the most-prescribed drugs in the country.
But the use of estrogen dropped by 71 percent from 2001 to 2009, according to the North American Menopause Society.
Researchers halted the clinical trial altogether three years early in 2002 because of the noted increased risk.
For some women, menopause symptoms are much more than the occasional hot flash. Depression, low libido, night sweats, panic attacks and vaginal dryness are only a few of the many indications that storm through the body of a menopausal woman.
Symptoms like vaginal dryness and pain on intercourse are more difficult to bring up with a gynecologist than risks of heart disease and breast cancer, said Langer.
"Fears like the risk of breast cancer, or sometimes heart attacks or strokes, surface quickly in those discussions," continued Langer. "The reporting of the WHI fed those fears to a degree not warranted by the small increase in breast cancer rates that probably only reflected earlier discovery of existing cancers, or by the fact that the heart attack risk and stroke was only seen in women who started more than 10 years after menopause."
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