It has been almost a decade since a landmark federal study called the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) found that taking estrogen and progestin at menopause increases a woman's risk of stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer, among other conditions. In the years since, millions of women have struggled with whether to take hormones to prevent chronic diseases after menopause. Do the risks outweigh the benefits?
A new review of scientific papers published since 2002 finds that the answer to that question is still yes - for most women. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has twice issued recommendations on hormone therapy. In 2002, the task force said that estrogen plus progestin - the regimen for women who still have their uteruses - increases the risk of breast cancer and dementia. Three years later, the group concluded that the risks of estrogen alone (for women who have had hysterectomies) also outweighed the benefits.
Now researchers at Oregon Health and Science University say that those recommendations should still stand.
That still leaves an area of controversy. These studies referred to long-term use of hormones to prevent chronic conditions like heart disease but still leave open the possibility of using hormones for a short time to alleviate the most troublesome symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes.
The current thinking is that the benefits of this very short-term therapy (for a year or two) may help some women get over the worst symptoms - although this is an individual decision based on a woman's personal medical history. Talk to your doctor about how the data applies to you.