When the National Institutes of Health shut down a hormone study in 2002 because women who were taking estrogen and progestin had higher incidences of breast cancer and other problems, women stopped taking hormones in droves. Six years later, the decision to take them is still tricky.
“It should be looked at from the perspective of benefit versus risk,” says JoAnn Manson, MD, chief of the division of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and author of Hot Flashes, Hormones, and Your Health, who has prescribed estrogen for women with severe night sweats. But not all women are good candidates, she says: Your age as well as your family history of breast cancer are all factors to weigh.
“The recent studies are reassuring that younger, recently menopausal women won’t have an increased risk of heart disease with hormones and there might be a health benefit,” she says. On the other hand, there’s an increased risk of breast cancer if you take estrogen and progestin for more than five years.
What to do: Research your options. “There are low-dose transdermal patches, sprays, and natural progesterone that are worth looking into,” she says. “There’s no one-size-fit-all approach.”