March 31, 2015 -- If you're in menopause, you might wonder if hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help or harm your health. Research on the pros and cons of HRT has been on a rollercoaster-like path for decades. Some studies say it's good for you. Others warn it isn't. New research cites even more risks.
Is it safe or not? Two women's health experts answer common questions.
Why the HRT confusion?
"When hormone therapy first came out, it was highly promoted, like it was the fountain of youth," says Lynn Pattimakiel, MD, who works at the Center for Specialized Women's Health at the Cleveland Clinic.
In the 1980s, research showed it could ward off osteoporosis and maybe heart disease. Such things are common after menopause.
But in 2002, a big study released by the Women's Health Initiative said HRT made a woman more likely to have heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots. Other reports from the program said it raised the risk of breast cancer. This triggered a lot of fear and worry.
"Women stopped taking the hormones when the trial results were released," says JoAnn Pinkerton, MD, director of the Midlife Division at the University of Virginia.
Five years later, a new look at the data offered better news. The risks varied by age and how long you've been in menopause. "They found that if you are under 60 or within 10 years of menopause," there's a lower risk of death, Pinkerton says. The average age of menopause is 52.
Today, researchers continue to report on HRT's long-term benefits and risks. Among the latest findings:
- Short-term use (3-5 years) may slightly raise the risk for ovarian cancer.
- HRT can boost a woman's heart health when taken within the first 10 years of menopause, provided they don’t already have concerns for heart disease. But it can raise the risk for heart disease in older women. Earlier studies also said this was true.
- Previous studies show that HRT can raise breast cancer risk for women who take combined estrogen-progestin therapy. The same risk was not found in women who took estrogen alone.
source : FAQ: Hormonal Therapy for Menopause