FDA To Address Hormone Therapy

woman's face with lettering HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY, finished graphic, 8-17-99
AP
A recent study that questioned the benefits of hormone replacement therapy caused a lot of concern for many women who were planning to take treatments for the rest of their lives. Now the government says it will try to provide some answers.

The Early Show's medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay discusses the government initiative.

It's clear at this point that the hopes that hormones could provide a fountain of youth for women as they age have been dampened considerably since the news came out about the increased risk of breast cancer, stroke and heart disease from long-term use of one type of popular drug.

The FDA announced that, beginning this fall, it will hold a series of public forums to reassess products that contain hormones and to address concerns about the drugs.

The problem is that there are still a lot of things not known about the risks versus the benefits of hormone replacement therapy. Also, little is known about the differences between the various combinations and types of hormone replacement therapy currently on the market.

The breast cancer findings only apply to one type of HRT, called Prempro, which contains a combination of estrogen and progestin. The study was immediately halted because of the risk of breast cancer. Researchers continue to study premarin, a product containing only estrogen, to study its long-term effects.

The new efforts are gearing up because results from the study of one particular drug do not necessarily apply to other brands or to products that contain different dosages or are administered by patch instead of pill. Unless a patient has been taking Prempro for more than five years, as were the women in the study, it's difficult for doctors to advise their patients on how to proceed with other brands.

Whether to continue taking hormones is still a question that depends on the circumstances of the individual. Doctors still are the best people to consult.

It is known that short-term hormone replacement is effective for relief of menopause symptoms and also for prevention of osteoporosis. More and more evidence is piling up that for the long term, HRT is not only ineffective, but may be dangerous.