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Failure to act over HRT study results criticised

MEDIA STATEMENT 11 July 2002


Ministry criticised over failure to act over HRT study results

Sandra Coney, Executive Director of Women’s Health Action, today called on the government to take urgent action to alert women to the risks of hormone replacement therapy and to inform doctors of the results of the Women’s Health Initiative study in the US.

She described the statement of Dr Bob Boyd of the Ministry of Health as ‘completely failing the women of New Zealand’. Dr Boyd did not propose any action to alert women to the risks they were taking, or to echo the advice of US health authorities that women taking HRT for prevention of disease should stop doing so.

‘Dr Boyd is taking a “do nothing” approach which is astonishing given the magnitude of the problem. Earlier in the year, the Ministry did a great deal to alert women and doctors when a study showed a higher risk of blood clots in women using certain oral contraceptives. This is much worse, but the Ministry is sitting on its hands.’

Currently about 100,000 New Zealand women use HRT, and over half use combined therapy.

Ms Coney said that the US results showed the following:

For every 10,000 women using HRT in one year there would be
- 8 more cases of invasive breast cancer
- 7 more heart attacks
- 8 more strokes
- 18 more blood clots
- 8 more blood clots on the lungs
compared to a similar group of women not taking hormones.

Ms Coney said it was not clear how these results translated to New Zealand as there was limited information about women using HRT, but it was clearly a very significant public health issue.

Dr Boyd said yesterday that women in the Women’s Health Initiative were older than women using HRT in New Zealand and did not have menopausal symptoms. Ms Coney said that the women in the WHI study were comparable to women in New Zealand and the researchers said the results applied to women of all ages using HRT.

‘It does not matter why women are using HRT,’ explained Ms Coney, ’the risks are the same for all women.’

For more information contact Sandra Coney, Phone 09 356 7074, mobile 021 446 370.
The study was the biggest study ever set up to look at the effects of HRT and one of the largest prevention trials ever carried out. The study is regarded as the gold standard and the results have been eagerly awaited.

It is unprecedented that a study of such magnitude should be terminated early and all study participants using combined therapy written to with the message ‘Stop taking your study drugs’. This action was taken by health authorities in the US because they said the risks of HRT outweighed the benefits.

Ms Coney disputes the claim that short-term use of HRT is safe, and that the risk only apply to long-term users.

‘The increase in strokes occurred in the second year of use and the risk of heart attacks in the first year of use. It is no longer correct to claim that short term use is safe.’

Local research has shown that a significant number of NZ women use HRT for prevention of disease. Half the women in a recent study were using HRT for prevention, says Ms Coney.

‘What the US researchers are saying is that HRT should not be used for prevention. There are other actions women can take and treatments for preventing heart disease and fractures.’

The study results apply to women taking combined therapy which is thought to be 54% of current users in New Zealand.

ENDS

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