Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Analysis: Study overstated heart risk for some women
Women in the original study were too old, critics said.
CHICAGO (AP) Maybe hormones aren't so bad for women's hearts after all if the women are still in their 50s.
In a postscript to a landmark study five years ago that led millions of women to abandon hormones during menopause, a new review suggests the heart risks for this group of women were overstated.
In fact, hormones probably are a reasonable short-term option for women in their 50s who need relief from hot flashes, night sweats and other symptoms, said Dr. Jacques Rossouw, the government researcher who led the original research and the new review of the high-profile Women's Health Initiative
The pills either estrogen alone or a combination of estrogen-progestin don't get a complete stamp of approval because of stroke risks for both and breast cancer risks for the combination pill.
Critics feel vindicated
But many critics of the original study feel vindicated. They had argued that the results were skewed because more than half the women in the study were well past the usual age when hormone users start treatment.
"If you go back to the original WHI results, women were too old, they had too much disease, there was no breakdown by years or time since menopause," said Dr. Debra Judelson, a Beverly Hills cardiologist. The new analysis attempts to clarify those points, she said, and "has got tremendous benefit."
"Hormone therapy is an individualized choice. This actually should help women and doctors to make that kind of decision," said Dr. Joseph Camardo of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., maker of the hormone pills studied.
The new analysis indicates the pills don't raise the risk of heart attack for women in the 50-to-59 age group. However, that age group did see a higher risk of breast cancer from the combination hormone and a higher risk for stroke from that pill and estrogen alone. The risk was even greater for older women. That's because women in their 70s or who are 20 years past menopause already face increased heart, stroke and cancer risks by virtue of age alone.
Rossouw of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute called the new results "somewhat reassuring."
Dr. Deborah Grady, a researcher at the University of California at San Francisco, said many women and doctors overreacted to the initial study data, and the re-analysis may help temper some of the aversion to hormones that followed.
"Hormone therapy in women who are near menopause is probably not very dangerous," Grady said, noting that previous analyses of the study data also hinted at that.
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