Is HRT safe?

Once again sensationalised headlines casting doubt on the safety of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).  ‘Women on HRT urged to review treatment with their GP following new breast cancer risk evidence‘. So, is HRT safe?

Is hrt safe: oestrogen tablets

The headlines got massive attention, affecting those of us already talking it, those experiencing symptoms and considering it, and everyone around them.

So what’s going on? If you take it, what do you do? Stop taking it? Go back to whoever prescribed it and check? If you’re thinking of taking it do you change your mind?

It’s another big blow for many women struggling with menopausal symptoms. At Henpicked we’ve had women tell us that HRT was a life-saver for them – literally.

And I get that. If you’ve been at the point where you can’t cope at work – even thinking about giving up work – it’s a big thing. If your relationships are struggling, friends, family and partners alongside you feeling the effects – it’s a big thing.

Some women don’t experience symptoms but if you do and you need help, HRT is an option to consider along with other options e.g. lifestyle changes. But you can only do that if you’re using accurate information to make an informed choice.

Then you see headlines like these. I’ve been on HRT for 8 years, it gave me my life back. My husband sent me the first headline released with a series of question and exclamation marks. He’s worried. He’s not alone.

So, here’s what you can do if you’re worried about whether HRT is safe:

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If you’re taking HRT or thinking of taking HRT and you’re concerned by anything you’ve read, download this update from Peppy and Henpicked.

Women on HRT should continue as usual, attend regular mammograms, and be breast aware – just like any other woman.

There is no urgent need to stop HRT and the disadvantages of doing so might outweigh potential benefit for many women. Make a routine appointment with whoever prescribes your HRT and say you wish to discuss the study, and in particular any personal risk to you, taking into account other risk factors such as alcohol use, obesity and family history.

Peppy menopause service. Or book an appointment to talk to one of the Peppy Menopause Nurses.

How you manage your menopause is your personal choice. Base your decisions on facts – benefits and risks – managing both symptoms and long-term health. Taking into account your own medical history.

Do not rely on the sensationalised headlines, designed to get our attention and sell papers or get more airtime.

Check out what the experts say

The British Menopause Society, the lead professional group in the UK for menopause practice says that women “must be informed of the data on breast cancer risk with HRT to help them make an informed decision”, and point out that the study fails to consider other lifestyle factors such as alcohol intake and obesity, as well as the mortality of those diagnosed with breast cancer.’

The International Menopause Society, a worldwide professional group, says “Much of the information regarding breast cancer risk and MHT (menopausal hormone therapy) reported in this paper is not new, although findings in relation to oestrogen-only therapy do differ from those reported in the Women’s Health Initiative randomised trial. It is important to note that, because of when the data included in this report was collected, most of the HRT regimens were different from those currently recommended.”

Personally I agreed with the summary of the headlines from UCL Professor Michael Baum.

His view is that the terrifying HRT press releases are “unforgivable” and denies women of the benefit of an improved quality of life and a greater risk of some of the other diseases that HRT can help prevent.

He went on to say that the new report indicates the risk is higher than first thought but “two times a small number is still a very small number”.

Read the NICE guidelines

The link between long term use of HRT and breast cancer has been widely discussed for years and the 2015 NICE Guidance tells health care professionals that it should be discussed with women prior to starting HRT.

GPs have the NICE guidelines to inform them about how to diagnose and treatments for menopause, including HRT. These guidelines are reviewed and updated in light of any new information after thorough investigation and consultation.

The NICE guidelines say that for the vast majority of women under the age of 60 years, HRT provides more benefits than risks. HRT has been shown in numerous studies to reduce a woman’s risk of developing osteoporosis and also heart disease.

Each woman has different risks for breast cancer and other diseases and for this reason it is really important that individual risks of taking HRT are discussed with your GP or menopause specialist. There are many different types of HRT – it’s not a “one-size-fits-all” method.

Although this increased risk sounds high, it is still very small and all the other benefits of taking HRT need to be considered too.

Didn’t this happen before?

Yes, back in 2002, HRT headline spiraled out of control, questioning whether HRT is safe.  The research was later discredited but to this day, years later, many women still believe that HRT is too great a risk. The shadow casting doubt on the ability to make an informed choice based on facts.

Millions of women missed out on the benefits it could have given them – for managing menopausal symptoms, getting their life back and providing protection for things like their bones and heart.

Then again in August 2016.‘British study finds risk of breast cancer nearly tripled by combined HRT’.

We all need factual information we can rely on

What we do need is good quality, plain English, straightforward information – the facts. So do GPs and those in the medical profession.

And to talk about menopause more, whether that’s with experts or with our friends and family. All women will experience menopause differently – we can help ourselves and others if we talk about it.

Let us know what you think of the headlines – have they changed what you think about whether HRT is safe?

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About Deborah Garlick

I'm the founder of Henpicked. I love reading the wonderful stories and articles women send us - I read every one. I've learnt so much and hope others enjoy them too. I believe life's about being happy and that we're here to help one another. And that women are far wiser than they often realise. I'm passionate about helping women live better lives by educating on the facts about menopause. I'm a Director of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace and one of the authors of Menopause: the change for the better.