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Even The Experts Can’t Agree On Hormone Replacement Therapy

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is often recommended to women to relieve menopausal symptoms and treat osteoporosis, and more recently to protect against heart disease.

With all these benefits, why are women still having a difficult time deciding whether to take hormone supplements or not?

One of the reasons is the information coming out suggesting that HRT may increase the chance of breast cancer. This causes a big dilemma and the information on the subject is not making it any easier. Even the experts can’t agree.

In June, 1995, a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed an increased risk of breast cancer among women who had taken hormones for more than five years.

Shortly after, another study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This one found no increased risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women taking hormones.

This was reassuring but the number of women involved in the study was much smaller than the first study, leading researchers to question if the study could have detected small increases in breast cancer risk. Obviously more research is needed. Studies are underway.

Why take hormones?

Hormone supplements are clearly effective in relieving menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, as well as preventing osteoporosis if taken long enough. Many researchers also believe that they reduce the risk of coronary artery disease.

Do these benefits outweigh the potential risks?

For a 50-year-old woman, the baseline lifetime risk of heart failure is around 45 percent, risk of hip fracture is 15 percent and breast cancer is 8 percent. (360,000 American women died of heart disease in 1992, compared to 43,000 with breast cancer.)

Clearly such a collection of information will weight differently with the potential relief of symptoms, prevention of fractures, and side effects in each woman. The decision must also be based on her family history, risk factors, fears and preferences.

The bottom line? We know that hormone replacement therapy offers health benefits. Taken for five years or less, it does not appear to increase breast cancer risk, but because only long-term use will provide long-term benefits against heart disease and osteoporosis, the decision will still not be easy.

“The risk, if it exists, is very small compared to the reduction in heart disease deaths,” said Turner A. Wood, M.D., Oncologist.

Because there are no definite answers, it is important that a woman, with the help of her physician, evaluate her own risk factors for osteoporosis, heart disease, and breast cancer when deciding whether she should use hormone replacement therapy.

For more information on HRT, Osteoporosis, Heart Disease and many other health topics, visit Holy Family Health Center’s free lending library at 235 East Rowan, or call 458-2477 and talk to one of the nurses.