Health Team

Results Are in on Hormone Replacement Therapy Study

Posted March 4, 2008 1:52 p.m. EST
Updated March 4, 2008 6:09 p.m. EST

Doctors used to prescribe hormone therapy for many women's health concerns. That is, until 2002, when a major study found it increased some health risks.

A follow up study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at the risks of stopping hormones.

Gerrye Boggs was part of a major study called the Women's Health Initiative. She took an estrogen-progestin combination for about five years.

“In my lifetime, it was supposed to be the miracle drug for women,” she said.

In 2002, researchers stopped that part of the study due to increased health risks. Then, for three years, researchers followed those women and discovered cardiovascular risks diminished right away.

However, the risk of breast cancer, which went up 25 percent higher during the trial, was still a problem even after hormone therapy stopped.

“This is a randomized trial. It's an experiment and that gives us a fair degree of certainty that this was related to the drug,” said Dr. Robert Wallace with the University of Iowa.

The follow up study also found a greater risk of colon cancer, lung cancer and an increase in the overall death rate 15 percent. Due to these risks, Gerrye Boggs says she stays on top of breast and colon cancer screening.

“I will not take hormones, not necessarily because of the risk but because I don't think I need them,” she said.

So do the overall risks of hormone therapy still outweigh the benefits?

“It continues to be overall unfavorable, but that doesn't mean the risks occur in every woman,” Wallace said.

It's still important for women, especially post-menopausal women, to get cardiovascular and cancer screening. Women who feel they need hormone therapy should talk to their doctor about the risks and potential benefits.

Researchers stress that women should continue to get annual health screenings and take appropriate preventive measures for their age even if they are no longer taking hormones.