Federal Officials Halt HRT Study After Detecting Increased Breast Cancer Risk
A "long anticipated" federal study on the effects of hormone replacement therapy in postmenopausal women has been halted three years early because researchers determined the treatment carries a "slight but significant" increase in the risk of invasive breast cancer and other diseases, the New York Times reports. The study, called the Women's Health Initiative, is the first and only large study to compare HRT -- a combination of estrogen and progestin -- and placebos in relieving symptoms of menopause and improving the overall health of women. Researchers decided to end the study now instead of its intended 2005 conclusion after determining that the risk of developing breast cancer and some other diseases increased for women taking the treatment for an average of 5.2 years. According to study data, if 10,000 women take HRT for one year, eight more will develop invasive breast cancer than will women in a group of 10,000 not taking HRT. In addition, seven more women taking HRT will have a heart attack, eight more will experience a stroke and 18 more will have blood clots. Although data show that in the hypothetical group taking HRT, six fewer women will have colorectal cancer and five fewer will have hip fractures, researchers said that HRT's risks outweigh its benefits. As a result of their findings, study leaders have sent letters to the more than 16,000 participants telling them to stop taking their medications (Kolata, New York Times, 7/9). A separate trial of the effects of taking estrogen in 10,000 women who have had a hysterectomy is expected to continue until 2005, and researchers have not yet observed an increased risk of breast cancer in women taking the treatment (Rubin, USA Today, 7/9).
Reaction to the study is expected to be "far-reaching," as nearly one in three postmenopausal women -- six million -- takes HRT, USA Today reports. Physicians, who have been prescribing hormones for six decades, recently began advising patients to continue to take the treatment even after symptoms of menopause symptoms had disappeared, in light of "dozens" of studies that showed women taking HRT have fewer heart attacks and have a lower risk of osteoporosis (USA Today, 7/9). Dr. Susan Hendrix, a Wayne State University professor of obstetrics and gynecology and coordinator of local tests in Michigan for the study, said, "We're not saying this drug shouldn't be used, but clearly it's not for everyone. I hope this spurs women to go in and talk to their physicians about why they're on hormone therapy. There are many other options out there" (Kurth, Detroit News, 7/9). The study, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, will be published in the July 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association and is available on the journal's Web site (USA Today, 7/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.