Hormone therapy does not increase the risk of cancer, heart disease or premature death in menopausal women, a study finds.
Research into the benefits of hormone therapy was stopped early in the 90s when unexpected harms were found from using the drugs versus a dummy pill for five to seven years.
More breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes occurred in women on combined pills, and those on estrogen pills had more strokes.
But about 18 years of follow-up showed that despite those risks, women had similar rates of deaths from heart disease, breast cancer and all other causes as those who took dummy pills.
Experts said the hormone therapy is safe to use by women who are looking to relieve symptoms from menopause such as hot flashes.
Hormone therapy for menopausal women does not increase the risk for heart disease, cancers and premature death. An 18-year follow-up of previous research showed women were just as likely to have these risks without taking the hormones as they are if they take them
Researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston analyzed mortality rates for more than 27,000 women aged 50 to 79 in the United States who were part of the original research in the 1990s.
Hormones were once considered a fountain of youth for women entering menopause because of weak evidence suggesting a host of benefits including reducing heart disease and boosting memory.
The landmark research, backed by the U.S. government, began in the early 1990s to rigorously test hormones’ effects in older women randomly assigned to take the pills or dummy treatment.
Brands studied were Prempro estrogen-progestin pills and Premarin estrogen-only pills.
The results from this original research led to advice for women to not take the hormones for risk them causing heart disease, cancer or premature death.
When used for menopause symptoms, the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time was recommended.
But an 18-year follow-up on these women has shown that there wasn’t an increase to risks of death and other disease on those who used the hormones.
Dr. JoAnn Manson is the preventive medicine chief at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and lead author of the follow-up report
‘It’s the ultimate bottom line,’ said Manson, who was also part of the original research. Women want to know ‘is this medication going to kill me’ and the answer appears to be no.
Overall, almost 7,500 women died, which was about 27 percent each in the hormone and dummy pill groups.
Most deaths occurred after women stopped taking hormones.
About 9 percent of women in both groups died from heart disease and about 8 percent from breast and other cancers.
Among the youngest women, there were fewer overall deaths early on among hormone users than dummy-pill users, but the rates evened out after women stopped using the pills.
Death rates were similar among women on both types of hormone treatment versus dummy pills.
Prempro and Premarin are both approved to treat menopause symptoms and to prevent bone-thinning osteoporosis.
Even so, many women and their doctors remain wary of hormone use.
More research is needed on risks and benefits of other types of hormones including patches, Mason said.