Women’s health 2019: Osteoporosis, breast cancer, contraception, and hormone therapy

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Release date: June 1, 2019
Expiration date: May 31, 2020
Estimated time of completion: 1 hour

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This review summarizes evidence that may enhance and influence clinical practice of women’s health. Supporting articles were identified by reviewing high-impact medical and women’s health journals published in 2017 and 2018. The chosen articles are pertinent to osteoporosis screening, hormonal contraceptive interactions with antibiotics, hormone replacement therapy in BRCA1 mutation carriers, breast cancer diagnosis using digital tomosynthesis, and risks of hormonal contraception.


  • The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening bone density when the 10-year risk of major osteoporotic fracture is more than 8.4%.
  • Women can be reassured that nonrifamycin antibiotics are unlikely to reduce efficacy of hormonal contraception.
  • Hormone replacement therapy after prophylactic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy does not increase breast cancer risk in women who carry the BRCA1 gene mutation.
  • Hormonal contraception may increase the risk of breast cancer by 1 extra case per 7,690 women, although most studies suggest there is no increased risk.
  • The use of digital breast tomosynthesis along with digital mammography can increase cancer detection in women with dense breast tissue, but it is not yet routinely recommended by most professional societies.



Keeping up with current evidence-based healthcare practices is key to providing good clinical care to patients. This review presents 5 vignettes that highlight key issues in women’s health: osteoporosis screening, hormonal contraceptive interactions with antibiotics, hormone replacement therapy in carriers of the BRCA1 gene mutation, risks associated with hormonal contraception, and breast cancer diagnosis using digital tomosynthesis in addition to digital mammography. Supporting articles, all published in 2017 and 2018, were selected from high-impact medical and women’s health journals.


A 60-year-old woman reports that her last menstrual period was 7 years ago. She has no history of falls or fractures, and she takes no medications. She smokes 10 cigarettes per day and drinks 3 to 4 alcoholic beverages on most days of the week. She is 5 feet 6 inches (170 cm) tall and weighs 107 lb. Should she be screened for osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is underdiagnosed

It is estimated that, in the United States, 12.3 million individuals older than 50 will develop osteoporosis by 2020. Missed opportunities to screen high-risk individuals can lead to fractures, including fractures of the hip.1

Updated screening recommendations

In 2018, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) developed and published evidence-based recommendations for osteoporosis screening to help providers identify and treat osteoporosis early to prevent fractures.2 Available evidence on screening and treatment in women and men were reviewed with the intention of updating the 2011 USPSTF recommendations. The review also evaluated risk assessment tools, screening intervals, and efficacy of screening and treatment in various subpopulations.

Since the 2011 recommendations, more data have become available on fracture risk assessment with or without bone mineral density measurements. In its 2018 report, the USPSTF recommends that postmenopausal women younger than 65 should undergo screening with a bone density test if their 10-year risk of major osteoporotic fracture is more than 8.4%. This is equivalent to the fracture risk of a 65-year-old white woman with no major risk factors for fracture (grade B recommendation—high certainty that the benefit is moderate, or moderate certainty that the benefit is moderate to substantial).2

Assessment of fracture risk

For postmenopausal women who are under age 65 and who have at least 1 risk factor for fracture, it is reasonable to use a clinical risk assessment tool to determine who should undergo screening with bone mineral density measurement. Risk factors associated with an increased risk of osteoporotic fractures include a parental history of hip fracture, smoking, intake of 3 or more alcoholic drinks per day, low body weight, malabsorption, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and postmenopausal status (not using estrogen replacement). Medications should be carefully reviewed for those that can increase the risk of fractures, including steroids and antiestrogen treatments.

The 10-year risk of a major osteoporotic or hip fracture can be assessed using the Fractional Risk Assessment Tool (FRAX), available at Other acceptable tools that perform similarly to FRAX include the Osteoporosis Risk Assessment Instrument (ORAI) (10 studies; N = 16,780), Osteoporosis Index of Risk (OSIRIS) (5 studies; N = 5,649), Osteoporosis Self-Assessment Tool (OST) (13 studies; N = 44,323), and Simple Calculated Osteoporosis Risk Estimation (SCORE) (8 studies; N = 15,362).

Should this patient be screened for osteoporosis?

Based on the FRAX, this patient’s 10-year risk of major osteoporosis fracture is 9.2%. She would benefit from osteoporosis screening with a bone density test.


A 27-year-old woman presents with a dog bite on her right hand and is started on oral antibiotics. She takes an oral contraceptive that contains 35 µg of ethinyl estradiol and 0.25 mg of norgestimate. She asks if she should use condoms while taking antibiotics.

The antibiotics rifampin and rifabutin are known inducers of the hepatic enzymes required for contraceptive steroid metabolism, whereas other antibiotics are not. Despite the lack of compelling evidence that broad-spectrum antibiotics interfere with the efficacy of hormonal contraception, most pharmacists recommend backup contraception for women who use concomitant antibiotics.3 This practice could lead to poor compliance with the contraceptive regimen, the antibiotic regimen, or both.3

Simmons et al3 conducted a systematic review of randomized and nonrandomized studies that assessed pregnancy rates, breakthrough bleeding, ovulation suppression, and hormone pharmacokinetics in women taking oral or vaginal hormonal contraceptives in combination with nonrifamycin antibiotics, including oral, intramuscular, and intravenous forms. Oral contraceptives used in the studies included a range of doses and progestins, but lowest-dose pills, such as those containing less than 30 µg ethinyl estradiol or less than 150 µg levonorgestrel, were not included.

The contraceptive formulations in this systematic review3 included oral contraceptive pills, emergency contraception pills, and the contraceptive vaginal ring. The effect of antibiotics on other nonoral contraceptives, such as the transdermal patch, injectables, and progestin implants was not studied.

Four observational studies3 evaluated pregnancy rates or hormonal contraception failure with any antibiotic use. In 2 of these 4 studies, there was no difference in pregnancy rates in women who used oral contraceptives with and without nonrifamycin antibiotics. However, ethinyl estradiol was shown to have increased clearance when administered with dirithromycin (a macrolide).3 Twenty-five of the studies reported measures of contraceptive effectiveness (ovulation) and pharmacokinetic outcomes.

There were no observed differences in ovulation suppression or breakthrough bleeding in any study that combined hormonal contraceptives with an antibiotic. Furthermore, there was no significant decrease in progestin pharmacokinetic parameters during coadministration with an antibiotic.3 Study limitations included small sample sizes and the observational nature of the data.

How would you counsel this patient?

Available evidence suggests that nonrifamycin antibiotics do not diminish the effectiveness of the vaginal contraceptive ring or an oral hormonal contraceptive that contains at least 30 µg of ethinyl estradiol or 150 µg of levonorgestrel. Current guidelines do not recommend the use of additional backup contraception, regardless of hormonal contraception dose or formulation.4 Likewise, the most recent guidance for dental practitioners (ie, from 2012) no longer advises women to use additional contraceptive protection when taking nonrifamycin antibiotics.5

In our practice, we discuss the option of additional protection when prescribing formulations with lower estrogen doses (< 30 µg), not only because of the limitations of the available data, but also because of the high rates of unintended pregnancy with typical use of combined hormonal contraceptives (9% per year, unrelated to use of antibiotics).4 However, if our patient would rather not use additional barrier methods, she can be reassured that concomitant nonrifamycin antibiotic use is unlikely to affect contraceptive effectiveness.


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