Hormone Therapy FAQ

What is hormone replacement therapy?
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) seeks to restore the declining estrogen levels in a woman’s body after menopause. HRT normally contains artificial forms of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone which are only produced in small amounts after menopause. It is meant to reduce hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness, and can significantly slow the development of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) with long-term use.

Is HRT for you?
The decision to take hormone replacement therapy should not be taken lightly. Most women put a lot of thought into whether they need the medication. The findings of the Women’s Health Initiative study have already led to changes in doctors’ thinking about the risks and benefits of HRT.

What are the disadvantages of hormone replacement therapy?
Occasional unexplained vaginal bleeding; side effects such as breast tenderness, headaches, bloating and weight gain; feeling of premenstrual tension; increased risk of breast cancer; slightly increased risk of endometrial cancer unless taken with progesterone; increased risk of gallstones; increased risk of deep vein thrombosis; increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Can hormone replacement therapy cause breast cancer?
In 2002, a study being conducted by the Women’s Health Initiative was halted after researchers uncovered a link between HRT and breast cancer. The study also found that hormone therapy could increase the risk of blood clots and heart attack.

Has there been independent confirmation of the link between HRT and breast cancer?
Many women stopped taking hormone replacement therapy after they learned of a possible breast cancer risk. A study by the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that within four years, breast cancer rates had fallen by 7% among all women, including a 12% drop in the kind of cancer associated with HRT use.

What are some alternative treatments?
Alternatives include herbs, vitamins, evening primrose oil, acupuncture and homeopathic remedies. Some believe the phyto-estrogens found in some foods are helpful. There are many other ways to reduce the risk of vascular disease, including not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Who should not use hormone replacement therapy?

HRT is not for women with a history of deep vein thrombosis, estrogen-dependent cancer, pulmonary embolus or unexplained vaginal bleeding. Caution may be needed with liver and gallbladder disease. Doctors normally caution women not to use HRT if they have a high risk of developing blood clots. Obesity, severe varicose veins, smoking, and a history of blood clots may rule out HRT.

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