The evidence weighing the benefits and risks of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in menopausal and postmenopausal women continues to tip toward the same conclusion – that taking HRT is dangerous.
HRT was once heralded as a cure-all for problematic symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, sleeping difficulties, mood swings and vaginal dryness. It was also given the added benefit of protecting women against heart disease and osteoporosis.
However, opinion quickly changed in 2002, after a large study of postmenopausal women found that HRT that combined the hormones estrogen and progesterone increased a woman’s risk for breast cancer by about one extra case for every 1,000 women who took the hormones for a year. It also showed no evidence of protecting women against cardiac events.
Once word got out, prescriptions for HRT plummeted by half, and cases of breast cancer soon dropped as well. Despite the decrease in HRT use, researchers continued to study women who remained on the drugs. The women in the study were an average age of 63 and remained on HRT for an average of 11 years.
Researchers found that among these women there was not only an increase in the number of breast cancer cases, but the cancers they were diagnosed with were more likely to be advanced and more deadly than previously thought. Data shows an increase of one extra death per year for every 10,000 women.
While HRT use has been drastically cut since 2002, it is still used by many women to curb menopausal symptoms. Researchers say that while the new data shows only a slight increase in breast cancer deaths compared to previous studies, it adds more fuel to the argument against the medication.