Older U.S. women stick to hormone pills: study

Prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy have fallen more than 50 percent in the United States since 2001, but doctors are still inexplicably giving women high-dose pills linked to strokes and cancer, researchers reported on Thursday.


December 2, 2010

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other groups do not say women should avoid hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, but they recommend taking the lowest possible dose for the shortest period of time.

“We’re disappointed,” Dr. Randall Stafford of Stanford University in California, who led the study, said in a statement.

“Yes, there was an increase in the use of low-dose preparations, but it was not sizeable.”

Hormone replacement therapy is used by women who are going through or who have gone through menopause to relieve symptoms that range from hot flashes, low energy, sleeplessness and vaginal dryness to bone loss.

Doctors once believed HRT also prevented heart disease and cancer, but the Women’s Health Initiative found in 2002 that women who took estrogen plus progesterone pills for five years had higher rates of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, strokes and other health problems.

Sales of U.S. market leader Wyeth’s combined estrogen plus progesterone pill Prempro have fallen by about 50 percent since 2001 to around $1 billion a year. Wyeth is now owned by Pfizer.

Many makers of HRT have reformulated their products, offering much lower doses of hormone, often as patches, creams or vaginal delivery products.

Stafford and colleagues looked at data from 340,820 patient visits to hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices, as well as information from telephone calls.

They found that use of HRT fell by 52 percent from 2001 to 2009, from 17.5 million users to 8.3 million users. But the women using HRT were often still getting relatively high doses of hormones in the pills.

“Despite reduced use, standard-dose oral (HRT) remains the dominant formulation, yet lower dose transdermal and vaginal preparations may yield less harm,” they wrote in Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society.



Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.