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HEALTH REPORT- July 24, 2002: Hormone Replacement Therapy Study Halted - 2002-07-22

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

American government researchers have halted a national women’s health study because they found harmful effects from hormone replacement therapy, or H-R-T.

Women’s bodies stop producing the hormone estrogen at about the age of fifty. This period of life is called menopause. Until now, medical experts believed that taking the hormone estrogen could protect older women from health problems like heart disease. Recent studies have disagreed, however.

The latest study is the largest ever done to investigate the effects of H-R-T on healthy, older women. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health carried out the study. It involved more than sixteen-thousand women between the ages of fifty and seventy-nine. Half of the women took a pill that contains the hormones estrogen and progestin. The other women took an inactive substance.

After five years, the women who took the hormones were twenty-six percent more likely to develop breast cancer than the others. The study found that the hormones also increased the chances of heart attacks by twenty-nine percent and strokes by forty-one percent. The researchers did find that the treatment reduced the number of broken bones and colon cancers. But officials decided to stop the study three years early because they believed the hormones did more harm than good.

The study tested the hormone progestin mixed with a kind of estrogen. About six-million American women use this kind of hormone replacement therapy. Adding progestin to the estrogen is necessary to prevent the risk of cancer of the uterus. A similar combination is used in Europe.

The study results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Some experts said women should use the hormones only to ease severe problems during menopause, such as feelings of extreme heat. They said women should not take hormone replacement therapy for more than a few years. They said women should protect their hearts and bones with other drugs and exercise.

The researchers said more testing is needed to see if other kinds of H-R-T have similar effects. For example, they said it may be safer to use smaller amounts of estrogen and progestin that can be placed on the skin.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.