Risks and benefits of hormone therapy: Has medical dogma now been overturned?

S. Shapiro*, T. J. De Villiers, A. Pines, D. W. Sturdee, R. J. Baber, N. Panay, J. C. Stevenson, A. O. Mueck, H. G. Burger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background In an integrated overview of the benefits and risks of menopausal hormone therapy (HT), the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) investigators have claimed that their 'findings ... do not support use of this therapy for chronic disease prevention'. In an accompanying editorial, it was claimed that 'the WHI overturned medical dogma regarding menopausal [HT]'. Objectives To evaluate those claims. Methods Epidemiological criteria of causation were applied to the evidence. Results A 'global index' purporting to summarize the overall benefit versus the risk of HT was not valid, and it was biased. For coronary heart disease, an increased risk in users of estrogen plus progestogen (E + P), previously reported by the WHI, was not confirmed. The WHI study did not establish that E+ P increases the risk of breast cancer; the findings suggest that unopposed estrogen therapy (ET) does not increase the risk, and may even reduce it. The findings for stroke and pulmonary embolism were compatible with an increased risk, and among E+ P users there were credible reductions in the risk of colorectal and endometrial cancer. For E+ P and ET users, there were credible reductions in the risk of hip fracture. Under 'worst case' and 'best case' assumptions, the changes in the incidence of the outcomes attributable to HT were minor. Conclusions Over-interpretation and misrepresentation of the WHI findings have damaged the health and well-being of menopausal women by convincing them and their health professionals that the risks of HT outweigh the benefits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-222
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014


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