Taking HRT in menopause will not lead to an early death

Reassuring news for menopausal women

By Natalie Healey

The menopause can bring a number of unpleasant symptoms associated with the decrease in the female hormone oestrogen. It’s not just hot flushes and night sweats: many women find they suffer depression, low libido, anxiety and even joint pain.

The majority who try hormone replacement therapy (HRT) find their symptoms improve.

But many women have been put off trying HRT because of research that came out in 2002 that linked the treatment to an increased risk of breast cancer.

However, new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has shown that women on HRT had similar rates of death from breast cancer, heart disease and all other causes than those who did not take the hormonal treatment.

Scientists followed 27,000 women over 18 years who were prescribed HRT to combat menopausal symptoms.

The findings support current advice that HRT can be beneficial for many women suffering with menopausal symptoms. The results suggest some women are needlessly avoiding treatment that could improve their lives.

HRT and breast cancer

HRT – which is available in numerous formulations from patches, to pills, to gels – can even protect women against conditions such as heart disease and osteoporosis which they are at higher risk for after the menopause.

Menopause specialist and GP Dr Louise Newson explains:

“The main reason people are scared of HRT is the breast cancer risk. However, young women under the age of 51 who have an early menopause do not have an increased risk of breast cancer after taking HRT. Younger women have a far higher risk of heart disease and osteoporosis if they go through menopause, so you have to give them hormones.”

Most menopausal women who take hormones have combined HRT (oestrogen and progesterone) because taking oestrogen on its own can increase the risk of womb cancer. Women who’ve had a hysterectomy therefore do not need to take progesterone.

Dr Newson explains that the breast cancer risk is not increased on oestrogen-only HRT. But for those taking combined HRT, there is a small increased risk.

However, there are other factors the increase your breast cancer risk more such as drinking alcohol, being overweight or not exercising.

“I say to patients even if there’s a risk, even if you take it for more than 15 years that risk is still less than having a couple of glasses of wine a night. You’re far more likely to die in car crash than you are to die from breast cancer after taking HRT. And you go in your car every day,” says Dr Newson.

While many women and even their doctors remain wary of hormone use in menopause, the researchers hope this follow-up study alleviates concerns about the long-term consequences of HRT and will help women make a more informed choice about their menopause.

If you’re experiencing menopausal symptoms which are affecting your quality of life, make an appointment with your GP to discuss treatment options.

 

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