A special edition of the journal Climacteric included several review studies on the safety of hormone replacement therapy for menopause. The general consensus of an international team of researchers is that these medications may be safe for more women than previous research suggested, a finding that may have implications for the pharmaceutical marketing of these drugs.
In 2002, the first Women's Health Initiative (WHI) report evaluated the benefits and side effects of hormone replacement therapy and concluded that the treatment may cause a slight increase in the risk of diseases such as breast cancer. However, the authors of the latest review articles suggested that the original report was problematic in part because it included many women who were about 12 years past menopause.
"An important contribution of the WHI was to clarify that, for older women at high risk of cardiovascular disease, the risks of hormone therapy far outweighed the benefits. This halted the increasingly common clinical practice of prescribing hormone therapy to women who were far from the onset of menopause," said JoAnn Manson, one of the principal investigators of the WHI.
However, applying these results to younger, healthier women in menopause may have needlessly barred them from receiving medications, according to the researchers. They argued that obesity, excess alcohol consumption and a lack of exercise had stronger associations with breast cancer than hormone replacement therapy.
In a series of review articles, scientists from around the world suggested that hormones may be a valuable treatment for not only alleviating menopause symptoms, but also cutting the risks of heart disease and broken bones.
One review in particular said that the timing of hormone replacement therapy was important. These medications may be most suitable for women who are younger than 60 or are within 10 years of menopause.