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New Analysis Shows Hormone Therapy Safe for Younger Women

Hormone therapy is safe for younger women to use in treating menopause symptoms, a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests. NewsHour health correspondent Susan Dentzer details the report's findings.

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    In 2002, a major study set off public alarm about whether women taking hormone therapy were at higher risk for heart disease, breast cancer, and stroke. Researchers have taken another look at the data now and have new analysis about some of those risks.

    Our health correspondent Susan Dentzer joins me now.

    Susan, we have talked about this a lot, hormone therapy, good hormone therapy, bad. Where does this report land?

  • SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:

    Well, it clears up a lot of concern that arose, as we just said, over the Women's Health Initiative studies.

    When the reports were unveiled in 2002, keep in mind, the Women's Health Initiative studies were designed to test the proposition that hormone therapy, in addition to being safe and effective to treat menopausal symptoms — so-called hot flashes and night sweats — also had other preventive effects, specifically that they would prevent against heart disease, because there have been some studies that seemed to indicate that.

    When the report was made in 2002, it said quite the opposite, that use of these drugs not only didn't prevent against heart disease, it raised the risk of heart disease, as well as of breast cancer and stroke.

    But the question all along was: Is this consistent across the ages that women take these drugs? Because in the Women's Health Initiative study, there have been women as young as 50 and women close to 80 taking the drugs, so that was one question.

    The other was, if you're just taking the drugs not to prevent anything but just to get through your menopausal symptoms, is that OK? Well, the study that was reported today in the Journal of the American Medical Association really did create some reassurance for younger women. These are women close to 50, or between 50 and 59, and close to menopause.

    And the reanalysis, the statistical reanalysis that's now been done says that, if you're in that pool, close to 50 or between 50 and 59 and close to menopause, you can take hormone therapy with not any increased risk of heart disease, some increased risk of breast cancer and stroke, but those can be monitored, the study researchers suggested, through mammograms and blood pressure. So the risk of heart disease, again, for younger women doesn't exist.