Have the HRT scares been overblown?

Health scares surrounding the use of HRT have been greatly exaggerated and should not put women off using the therapy, according to media reports.

An international panel of 40 menopause experts concluded that HRT is safe for women aged 50 to 59 in the early years of menopause.

Findings are intended to dispell health scares which led many women to stop HRT.

The scares began in 2002 when the Women's Health Initiatve (WHI) study was halted three years early after researchers found that HRT use could increase the risk of breast cancer by 26 per cent and heart attacks by 29 per cent.

It is estimated that the number of UK women taking HRT UK halved to 1 million because of the WHI findings.

What is the research?
The expert panel presented their findings at the World Congress on the Menopause meeting in Madrid, Spain, last week.

They examined data from 42 published studies on HRT use in women, including the 2002 WHI study and a re-analysis from 2007, to determine if HRT causes heart disease, breast cancer, memory problems or bone fractures.

The data from the 2007 re-analysis of the WHI study showed that among women taking HRT, there were five fewer coronary events and seven fewer breast cancers per 100,000 women than those given placebo.

HRT use also protected users against osteoporosis with 56 fewer fractures per 10,000 women, said the panel.

HRT could be a cost-effective first-line treatment in the prevention of osteoporotic fractures, the panel also claimed.

However, there was no evidence found to suggest that HRT use could cause a decline in memory.

Overall, the studies provided overwhelming evidence to support the use of HRT in women aged 50 to 59 years.

evertheless, there was little evidence to suggest benefits of using HRT in the over-60s.

What do the researchers say?
Lead researcher Dr David Sturdee, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Solihull Hospital in the West Midlands, and president of the International Menopause Society, said: 'The release of the WHI study in 2002 still continues to damage the reputation of HRT.

'The WHI study focused on older women in their sixties who do not normally use HRT.

In the UK we deal with women aged 50-59 as they are the ones with the symptoms who need HRT,' he added.

'The re-analysis of the WHI study looked at whether the health effects varied with age.

'This time the study found that HRT is safe for use in women aged 50 to 59.'

However, it is frustrating that there are many GPs who refuse to prescribe HRT to their patients, said Dr Sturdee.

They should consider prescribing it to women in their fifties to help relieve their symptoms, he added.

What do other experts say?
Dr Anne Connolly, a GP in Bradford with an interest in HRT, welcomed the findings.

'It is good to have some positive news about HRT at last,' she said.

'We have known for some time that the results of the WHI study were skewed by age and that HRT is safe for use in women under 60.

'Hopefully this will now encourage more GPs to prescribe the therapy, which can only be good thing for patients.'


World Congress on the Menopause, Madrid, 2008,

Informing patients

  • The benefits of HRT appear to outweigh the risks in women aged 50 to 59.
  • Re-analysis of the WHI study found that HRT use did not increase the risk of heart attacks or breast cancer.
  • But the evidence does not support the use of HRT in women over 60.

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