Women entering menopause should not worry about hormone replacement therapy — despite a highly publicized study that put off many woman from the drugs, an international panel of experts said on Tuesday.
Researchers told a global menopause summit in Madrid that a 2002 study which discouraged many women from hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was flawed, as the subject group was relatively old and suffered from other conditions that all boosted risk.
Amos Pines, chairman of the International Menopause Society, said his team had reviewed dozens of published studies and found no increase in the risk of heart disease in women aged 50 to 59.
"The message is that each woman should discuss her general health, and risk factors such as family history...with her doctor, but generally healthy women entering the menopause should not have fears," Pines, of the Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv, said.
HRT was popular until 2002 when a Women's Health Initiative study suggested it could raise the risk not only of breast and ovarian cancer, but also strokes and other serious conditions.
The findings spurred millions of women to abandon HRT and hit shares in makers of hormone therapies such as Wyeth.
Minimal cancer risks
But the international team of menopause experts — which issued their consensus statement after reviewing the safety and effectiveness of HRT use in early menopause — said HRT showed no increase in heart disease risk for women aged 50 to 59, and estrogen alone actually decreased risk for these women.
Certain types of HRT can slightly increase risk of breast cancer but it is minimal compared to other risks such as smoking or having a first child over the age of 30, they added.
"We are not suggesting that people should stay on treatment forever," David Sturdee, a researcher at Solihull Hospital in Britain who worked on the review, said in a telephone interview.
Not everyone is convinced, however.
Valerie Beral, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford cautioned that the Pines-led review only looked at a fraction of the evidence, saying regulators recommend women only use HRT for short periods.
"They quote a small number of the very large studies that have been done," Beral said in telephone interview. "The review does not agree with regulatory bodies in the United Kingdom, U.S. or Europe who have reviewed the totality of the evidence."