Life After Hormone Therapy

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: July 14, 2010

Yes, there is life after hormone therapy. And, with the advent of new data, we are more tuned-in to what actually happens to our health risks and body when we stop hormone therapy. According to the most recent study, published in the March 5, 2008, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA),we are still learning about life after hormones, but many of our lingering, unanswered questions are being addressed. The headlines are often scary, but I want us together to take a look at the reality and help answer your questions.

As a follow-up study to the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) six years ago, the report examines the health risks and benefits for women three years after stopping combined hormone therapy (estrogen and progestin). Data shows that when you stop hormone therapy, the benefits (i.e., improving bone health) disappear and a small increased risk of some cancers (i.e., breast, lung) may continue for three or more years.

If you are a woman on hormones, here’s what the results mean to you. Sixteen thousand women between the ages of 45 and 65 were studied. The data revelas any additional cancer risk translates to an added risk of three cases a year for every 1,000 women. We need to realize this is a small number– about 0.3 percent.

“This publication is not a reason to change what you are doing,” said Dr. Leon Speroff, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Oregon Health Sciences University and a member of the board of the American Menopause Association. “It is not strong enough to make a change in clinical practice,” he continues.

This new data does not change the current recommendations for taking hormone therapy. The lowest dose for the shortest duration of time is currently the most well-accepted advice among professionals. Reactions to hormone therapy news seem to be leveling-out. No big surprises have been released since the results of the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative.

Prior to WHI results, women believed that hormone therapy would make them feel better. The benefits were greater than the risks and taking it would create better long term health. Many women also believed they could take it for the rest of their lives. As a result of the unforseen negative findings, many women became frantic. They felt confused and bewildered, resulting in altered perceptions about their decision to take hormone therapy.

The fact remains that a great number of women are hormonally challenged- very symptomatic and are looking for options. Unfortunately, their clinicians don’t seem to have all the answers. So, a dismal picture of uncertainty has evolved.

Things have apparently changed since the WHI bombshell. Many women are learning to cope better with their symptoms and looking into every possible way to manage them. They are turning to their peers for information, the internet, newspapers and magazines and their doctors in efforts to grasp a better understanding of how to put these clinical studies into perspective.

I tell all my Red Hot Mamas, “Don’t panic when the media releases new data.” Also, don’t become a passive consumer. I encourage women to have “heated” discussions with their doctors to get a clear picture of the situation, and work with their doctors in the development of an individualized treatment plan. Women should recognize the latest news indicates the chance of cancer being caused by hormones is really small. Still, overall risks remain higher for those who take hormones than for those who didn’t.

Personally, I have been taking low dose estrogen for years after having a hysterectomy and it has improved my quality of life. Life after hormones does not seem that bad to me! But, aside fromt he latest news and my personal choices, women also need to understand that hormone therapy is only one option.

There are many other options available that women should discuss with their doctors. They also need to make healthy lifestyle changes- diet and exercise, and if they choose HT as an option, understand the rationale behind the reasons for taking it, the length of time they will be on it, what to do if they want to stop it, and alternative ways to alleviate symptoms.

For more information about hormone therapy:

The Red Hot Mamas Approach to Hormone Therapy (HT)
Think Bioidenticals are Safer? Think Again
Alternatives to Hormone Therapy
Beyond Hormone Therapy: Complementary/Alternative Options
Hormone Patch Proves to be Safer Than Pill
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Aleccia, J., 2008, New Study Doesn’t Change Hormone Message. MSNBC. Mar 4, 2008.

Heiss, G., Wallage, R., et. Al., 2008, Health Risks and Benefits 3 Years After Stopping Randomized Treatment with Estrogen and Progestin. JAMA. 2008; 299 (9): 1036-1045.

Parker-Pope, T., 2008, Study Details Women’s Risks After Stopping Hormones. The New York Times. Mar 5, 2008.

Stern, A., 2008, Study of Hormone Therapy Shows Some Risks Persist. Reuters Health. Mar 4, 2008.