December 1, 2004

KEEP ON TAKING THE HRT ; Drug OK for Short-Term Use

HORMONE replacement therapy can still help millions of British women, doctors insisted yesterday.

But the experts also warned that HRT should only be used in the short term, to ease the symptoms of the menopause.

Supporters of HRT say it has improved the lives of countless patients.

But thousands of UK women have stopped the treatment since it was linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and strokes.

The number of HRT prescriptions fell by one million last year to 6.2 million.

Now the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have reviewed the data and made recommendations on the use of HRT.

They say HRT should still be given to patients with severe menopausal symptoms. Many women suffer hot flushes, night sweats and depression.

But HRT has also been given to some women without such symptoms, in a bid to stop them falling victim to brittle bone disease. And the Royal College believe the risks of such treatment are greater than the benefits. However, yesterday's report added thatwomen should make up their own minds on HRT, provided they understand the possible dangers.

Two major studies have highlighted risks involved in HRT. Trials in the US failed to back up claims that it protects against heart disease, and the UK's Million Women Study confirmed that using HRT for long periods increases the risk of breast cancer.

However, some experts say HRT is worth the risk for some women because it greatly improves their quality of life. Professor Shaughn O'Brien, of the Royal College, said yesterday: 'Seventy-five per cent of women complain of significant menopausal symptomsand the short-term use of HRT for these women carries relatively little risk.

'For longer-term use, the risks must be weighed by the patient and her doctor.'

Professor Valerie Beral, of Cancer Research UK, said: 'We know the drug can offer short--term benefit for relieving menopausal symptoms.

'But we also know that the longer women take HRT, the greater the risks of breast cancer and strokes.'