CHICAGO — The longest, most comprehensive follow-up yet of women given hormone pills during landmark government research found many health risks faded and some unexpected benefits emerged, but advice remains unchanged: Use hormones only short term if needed to relieve hot flashes and other menopause symptoms.
In the follow-up involving more than 27,000 women, researchers analyzed 13 years of data, including up to eight years of information on what happened after women stopped taking replacement hormones — estrogen alone or with progestin. The researchers present the most detailed information yet on hormones’ health effects by age, and include new information on risks based on time since menopause.
Estrogen pills, used by women who’ve had a hysterectomy, appeared to be safer, especially for younger women — those who started taking hormones in their 50s, the study found. That’s mainly because of a persistent breast cancer risk among women who’d taken the combined estrogen-progestin pills. Also, heart attacks risks were strongest among women given combined pills when they were in their 70s and decades past menopause— although in the real world, most hormone users start taking them at younger ages, when risks are lower.
For both types of pills, “risks will still outweigh benefits for women who are at older ages,” even if they have persistent hot flashes and other menopause symptoms , said lead author Dr. JoAnn Manson, preventive medicine chief at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
For women in early menopause, the quality of life benefits likely outweigh the risks, she said.
Hormones were once thought to help prevent a variety of age-related ills and many women considered them a staple for retaining their youth. The research was launched in the 1990s to examine some of those beliefs, and the new results confirm that hormones should not be used for disease prevention.