HRT 'is safe and can protect against heart without increasing cancer risks'
06:53 GMT, 10 October 2012
Taking HRT is safe and can protect against heart disease without increasing cancer risks, a milestone study claims.
It found women who take hormone replacement therapy at the start of the menopause for 10 years can reduce their risk of heart failure, heart attacks and premature death.
Most importantly, the study found there was no extra risk of cancer, strokes or blood clots even 16 years after starting HRT.
HRT use dropped dramatically in 2002 when a study found women who took it were at a higher risk of breast cancer, heart disease and strokes. A new review has called that research 'unreliable and defective'
Using HRT halved the risk of heart disease and strokes, and cut the death rate by 43 per cent during the study period.
Experts hailed the findings as finally demonstrating that HRT has long-term health benefits after a decade-long controversy over its safety.
British doctors are calling for rules on HRT prescribing to be re-written, allowing a new generation of women to get bone protection and relief from menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and mood changes.
At present, women in their 50s are told to use hormone replacement therapy drugs for the shortest period of time and not longer than five years.
The new Danish study is the only one to be carried out where women were randomly assigned to take HRT at the start of the menopause, and then their health checked after ten and 16 years.
Around 1,000 aged between 45 and 58 were recruited, with half taking HRT which was started early after the menopause. The control group received no treatment.
Why did women stop taking HRT
The study, published on the bmj.com website, found that after ten years, 33 women in the control group had died or suffered heart failure or a heart attack compared with only 16 women who were given HRT.
They also found that 36 women in the HRT group were treated for cancer compared with 39 in the control group. Ten women in the HRT group were treated for breast cancer compared with 17 in the control group. Eleven women in the HRT group were treated for strokes compared with 14 in the control group.
Specialists had long believed the oestrogen in HRT should prevent heart disease, but in 2002 the US Women’s Health Initiative study claimed women on the treatment were at higher risk of breast cancer, heart disease and strokes.
Expert analysis has since concluded the risks were caused by HRT being used in women many years past the menopause, for whom it was never intended.
Dr John Stevenson, reader in metabolic medicine at Imperial College London, said UK authorities should update guidance which says HRT should be offered only to women with serious menopausal symptoms for the shortest time possible.
‘The strength of the [Danish] study is its long duration, and this shows that HRT, started around the menopause, is really pretty safe indeed, even for longer-term use,’ he said.