Cancer risk lingers when hormones stop

Remember all the brouhaha over the Women's Health Initiative study, which showed that women using hormone therapy were more likely to develop breast cancer and also had increased risk of cardiovascular problems? Well, one of the big questions then was whether those risks dissipated once therapy stopped.

The answer, apparently, is yes and no. After a little over two years of follow-up, University of North Carolina researchers found that women in the study who'd been given hormones had about the same number of heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots as those given placebo. So the heart risks seem to have eased after the women stopped taking the hormone pills.

But the patients on hormones still had a slightly higher risk of cancer: the disease arose at a rate of 1.56 percent per year among those women compared with 1.26 percent among women in the placebo group. The difference isn't enough to dial 911 about, but, as one of the researchers said, "it's something to be aware of."

Nevertheless, treatment guidance remains the same; women should use hormone therapy at the lowest effective dose and for the shortest time possible. Apparently women have been following this advice, too; sales of Wyeth's Prempro and Premarin fell from about $2 billion in 2002 to about $1 billion. That's a figure Wyeth would like to see maintained, at least. Of the new study, Wyeth said, "Hormone therapy remains and good and viable choice."

- read the study abstract in the Journal of the American Medical Association
- check out the article in the Wall Street Journal
- see the New York Times coverage

Related Articles:
FDA cries halt to 'bio-identical' hormones. Report
HRT doesn't protect women from heart disease. Report
Wyeth wants end to customized HRT treatments. Report