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Last Updated: Monday, 16 February, 2004, 09:22 GMT
HRT 'scare' expert plays down risk
Women on HRT are advised to talk to their doctor
A researcher involved in HRT research that has prompted millions to stop taking it insists the treatment is the best option for many women.

Dr Susan Johnson was involved with the Women's Health Initiative study that was halted early in the US amid breast cancer and stroke fears.

However, she told a conference in Seattle that the benefits made the small risks worthwhile in many cases.

She said that she had persuaded some of her patients to start on HRT again.

HRT - hormone replacement therapy - is taken by millions of women worldwide to relieve menopausal symptoms.

However, there has been concern for some time that long-term users might increase their risk of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke.

Massive studies were set up in the US and Europe in an attempt to gauge with more precision the level of risk each woman might face.

Halted early

The Women's Health Initiative trial in the US was halted early in 2002 when, at that stage, results suggested that women taking a particular type of HRT faced a 26% increased risk of breast cancer, a 29% bigger risk of heart attack, and 41% higher risk of stroke than a "control" group taking a dummy placebo pill.

A lot of these women have abandoned hormone treatment, I think prematurely
Dr Susan Johnson, WHI study
This was offset by reductions in the risk of certain other cancers, such as colon, and a fall in the risk of hip fracture.

And although the statistics seemed alarming, it actually translated to just a 0.1% higher risk of breast cancer for each year a woman takes HRT.

HRT is thought to have been responsible for 20,000 extra cases of breast cancer in the UK over 10 years - and it has been used by tens of millions of women during that period.

While the US study group was composed of women with no menopausal problems - meaning they did not experience the principal benefit of the treatment - experts say women with these symptoms should definitely be considering HRT.

'Still safe'

Dr Johnson told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Seattle: "One of the groups that has abandoned it are the women who have hot flushes - for whom HRT is still a safe and effective therapy.

"A lot of these women have abandoned hormone treatment, I think prematurely.

"It is very difficult to talk a lot of these women into reconsidering hormone therapy - I spend a lot of time doing it."

In the UK, guidelines from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh suggest that HRT remains an appropriate treatment for menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.

Professor David Purdie, an expert on HRT and osteoporosis from Edinburgh, resigned from a government advisory group last year when the UK Committee on Safety of Medicines advised that the treatment should not be used in future to help prevent brittle bone disease.

He said that the risks accompanying the treatment had been "magnified", and that HRT remained a useful treatment.

He said: "I think this will cause great confusion again and uneccessary worry through the country.

"I can sympathise with women who don't know where to turn now."

The BBC's Vicki Young
"Patients are confused about HRT"

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13 Feb 04  |  Leicestershire
Q&A: HRT and breast cancer
03 Feb 04  |  Health
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09 Dec 03  |  Business
Expert resigns over HRT warning
04 Dec 03  |  Health

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