In early July, the National Institutes of Health said it had called off a six-year study of a combination estrogen and progestin hormone-replacement therapy used to treat menopause symptoms. NIH said the therapy's risks—including increased chances of blood clots, breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes—far outweighed the protection it offered against problems such as osteoporosis and colorectal cancer.
Until May 31, NIH tracked 16,000 healthy, post-menopausal women who took the combination drug or a placebo for six years in the first large-scale study of HRT. The research was cancelled three years ahead of schedule.
Roughly 6 million U.S. women take the combination estrogen-progestin drug. A few days after NIH called off the Women's Health Initiative study, the Philadelphia law firm Schiffrin & Barroway filed a class-action lawsuit against global pharmaceutical company Wyeth Inc. on behalf of women claiming damages caused by the company's combination hormone drug, Prempro.
Some doctors said the increased risks associated with the combination drug—about eight more women in 10,000 may develop breast cancer while using the combination drug than without it, for example—were slim and advised their patients not to stop taking the medication. They suggested some patients discontinue HRT gradually under physician supervision and consider other therapies to treat symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and vaginal dryness.
Researchers led by Deborah Grady, M.D., director of the University of California-San Francisco Mount Zions Women's Health Clinical Research Center, published findings of another study, the "Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Follow-up Study," in the July 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. That study suggests that estrogen along does not protect older women against heart disease.
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