Whenever we consult our physicians about whether to begin a medical treatment, we always hope that the decision can be made based on good current research findings. When these decisions are made using research that is faulty or misleading, the results can be dangerous, especially if that research forms the basis of standard medical practice. Such may be the case with hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) in post-menopausal women.
In the April 2017 issue of Climacteric, the journal of the International Menopause Society, Robert D. Langer M.D., MPH , an adjunct Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Nevada, says that most women and their health practitioners use facts that are frequently wrong in believing hormone therapy is unsafe.
The confusion stems from findings obtained from the Women’s Health Initiative clinical trial in 2002 that was stopped because of concerns that hormone replacement therapy caused an increase in breast cancer and heart attacks. Dr. Langer, who was one of the principal researchers in the Women’s Health Initiative, says that the controversial statements that came from this study and were subsequently adopted by the medical community at large were written by a small group of researchers who generalized the data in an inappropriate manner and then hid their findings from the rest of the authors listed in the study until it was published.
Dr. Langer said the true nature of the study was to see if women who began hormone replacement therapy about a decade after the start of menopause would get the same benefits as those who began it around the start of menopause. The answer seems to be yes and this was shown when the second half of the research that was published 2 years later demonstrated a reduced rate of breast cancer and a reduced rate of heart attack in women under 60 when they began HRT. While these results contradicted the original findings, they were largely ignored because the fear surrounding this issue was already too great.
The unfortunate result has been that women who might have been helped by HRT may have been untreated or under-treated for the past 15 years leading to increased menopausal symptoms of hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbance, joint pain, and anxiety as well as increased risk of bone loss and fracture. So if you have not been taking HRT and think you might benefit, it may be time to revisit this topic with your physician or healthcare practitioner, especially considering there are many different forms of HRT now available.