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Howard's End: New Research Reveals HRT Risks

Women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are being advised to stop the treatment because of new research which shows life-threatening risks outweigh the benefits. Maree Howard writes.

An eight-year study of 16,000 women has been cut short after five years because researchers observed marked increases in the rate of stroke, breast cancer, blood clot and coronary heart disease.

Harvard Medical School Professor, Graham Colditz, said yesterday that the findings of the American trial showed the risks of HRT outweighed the benefits.

"Anyone who has been on HRT for more than a year should stop their medication and go back to their doctor to reassess their treatment," he said.

Concerned researchers have announced the study results two weeks before they were due to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The full results will be released in Brisbane, Australia, today.

The concerns raised in the study centre on the use of combined HRT by healthy, post-menopausal women for the prevention of disease.

"The whole purpose of healthy women taking long-term oestrogen/progestin therapy is to preserve health and prevent disease," Professor Colditz said.

"The results of this study provide strong evidence that the opposite is happening," he said.

Professor Colditz said: "Given the size of the trial, it is unarguable that the risks outweigh the health benefits."

Results showed the stroke rate in the trial was 41 per cent higher in women who took the drug than in women who took a placebo.

Invasive breast cancer rates increased by 26 per cent, blood clots by 100 per cent, coronary heart disease by 29 per cent and cardiovascular disease by 22 per cent.

The benefits of combined oestrogen and progestin HRT included a 37 per cent drop in colorectal cancer rates and a 33 per cent reduction in hip fracture.

Women often use some form of HRT to relieve hot flushes and sexual problems and to prevent osteoporosis.

Professor Colditz said the trial had been the "most rigorous test" of HRT as a preventive treatment.

He said this Women's Health Initiative provides an important health answer for generations of post-menopausal women to come.

"Do not use oestrogen/progestin to prevent chronic disease," he said.

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Alan Coates said the Council would reserve judgement until it had reviewed the study.

"This is important data from a large, reputable study and the results should be seriously considered."

"Individual women need to be advised by their doctor about the risks and benefits of HRT," Mr Coates said.

The head of the Cancer Council, Dr Andrew Penman, said the research showed combined HRT led to a 26 per cent increase in breast cancer. "We feel quite strongly that the use of combined HRT for prevention should now be suspended."

The research showed adverse outcomes began appearing within two years after starting treatment.

Women on combined HRT are being advised to contact their doctor or call the help lines of the various support groups.


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