Study shows hormone pills don't shorten older women's lives

Faith Castro
September 13, 2017

However, a follow-up study has found despite those risks, women on hormone therapy for five to seven years had similar rates of deaths from heart disease, breast cancer and other causes as those who took placebo pills. As a result, more women should be offered the treatment for hot flushes, night sweats and other problems, scientists said.

Dr. Joshua Roth, lead author of the HICOR analysis, said he does not believe that the new WHI study would change his findings.

Experts said the hormone therapy is safe to use by women who are looking to relieve symptoms from menopause such as hot flashes.

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. Uncovering the link between these drugs, heart attack and stroke remains a crowning achievement of the Women's Health Initiative, because it disproved observational studies that had been used to promote hormone therapy as enhancing heart health. "Mortality rates are the ultimate "bottom line" when assessing the net effect of a medication on serious and life-threatening health outcomes".

However, an 18-year follow-up of 27,347 women who were part of the WHI study found that they were no more likely to die of any cause than women who took placebo pills.

Over the extended follow-up period, overall mortality rates and deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer were neither increased nor decreased among women who received hormone therapy.

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Manson added that the study only included estrogen and progesterone in pill form, since that was the only formulation available at the time. "The biggest cost savings", he said, "were related to reduced prescriptions for combined hormone therapy and reduced breast cancer incidence and treatment costs".

The findings were published Tuesday in the US journal JAMA.

Manson said the lack of impact on death rate from any cause is more important than the findings associated with death rate from cancer or heart disease. In weighing the risks, she said, a woman may want to consider that "a stroke in your 50s can be a horribly disabling event, even if it does not translate into mortality for another 10 to 15 years".

Overall, nearly 7,500 women died - 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. After that, many doctors became reluctant to prescribe hormone therapy for menopause symptoms.

More research is necessary on the long-term benefits and risks of newer hormone therapies, the researchers say.

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