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Hotline helps quiet hormone fears

Hormone replacement drugs have stirred up a lot of controversy and confusion in the past couple years in regard to women's health.

Dr. Mark Curtis, obstetrician and gynecologist at Cottonwood Hospital and Tina Goldsmith, a nurse practitioner from St. Mark's and Cottonwood hospitals, made an effort to clear things up as they listened to women's concerns and answered questions on the Deseret Morning News/Intermountain Health Care Hotline Saturday.

"There is a lot of confusion out there about estrogen these days," Goldsmith said. "Almost every caller had the same question."

The women were concerned about the results of the Women's Health Initiative, a randomized study trial of postmenopausal hormones.

One leg of the study that had women taking Prempro, a post-menopausal prescription hormone, was stopped after five years because researchers found a slightly increased risk in breast cancer with duration of the drug's use.

Prempro is a combination of Premarin, a conjugated estrogen hormone, and Provera, a synthetic type of progesterone. The drugs have been used separately and together for more than 20 years to treat the numerous problems associated with female hormone imbalances and menopause.

But after the WHI findings a concern has spread among women using Prempro and other hormone replacements. However, when the Provera and Premarin were used separately the risk remained low.

"Women are dumping the hormones without getting the correct information," Curtis said.

Both Curtis and Goldsmith agreed the majority of callers had been on Premarin alone and according to the study were not even at risk. But Curtis said even for those who are taking the two hormone replacements combined, the risk is minimal.

"There have been hundreds of studies done," Goldsmith said. "This was the result of only one study and the media chose to report it — it has terrified the public."

She said as the media provided information from one study alone it sparked concerns and fear. Even general practitioners, she said, were telling patients to stop taking the hormones — with no consideration to how narrow that particular leg of study was. Many did not understand that it only affected women who took estrogen and progesterone together. Not for those who took estrogen alone.

"The women in that part of the study were 63 and hadn't been on hormones for 10 years," said Goldsmith. "That's all it tells us."

Goldsmith said after the risk is put into perspective it is no greater than many other lifestyle choices.

"Someone who doesn't exercise has a greater risk of developing breast cancer than someone on hormone replacement therapy," Goldsmith said.

She said individuals need to look at their own risk/benefit profile and decide if they should take hormone replacements, adding that in most people the benefits outweigh the risks.


E-mail: terickson@desnews.com