Time and study make a difference. So does careful review and reappraisal of existing data. In the past year, the pendulum has swung away from fear of hormone therapy to a better understanding of indications, risks and benefits—an understanding driven largely by the evidence-based position statements of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of phytoestrogens attested to lack of efficacy or weak effect, which helps clear the picture on soy and red clover, but the researchers stressed that the lack of quality control does not rule out the possibility that some products might carry steroidal effects and potential risk.
And another year has brought even more evidence that diet, exercise, smoking cessation and the like really do improve health and quality of life.
Advisory on hormone therapy and “bio-identicals”
The NAMS Hormone Therapy Panel concluded definitively that bio-identical hormones should be considered in the same category as all the sex steroids, which, in the absence of specific safety and efficacy studies, carry the same risks and benefits as related products.
On the other hand, alternatives do exist for specific indications, such as bisphosphonates for bone conservation.
The new NAMSPosition Statement stresses individualized treatment based on the recommendations below.
The full report is available at www.menopause.org.
- Treatment of moderate to severe menopausal symptoms is the primary indications for systemic therapy. Every systemic product is FDA-approved for this indication.
- Every systemic and local product is approved for moderate vulvar and vaginal atrophy. For this indication alone, local ET is generally advised.
- Duration should be for the lowest effective dose and shortest time consistent with treatment goals.
- If the woman is well aware of potential risks and benefits, and if there is clinical supervision, extended use of the lowest effective ET/EPT dose for treatment goals is acceptable in women who believe the benefits outweigh the risks, for those at high risk of osteoporotic fracture who also have moderate to severe menopause symptoms, for further prevention of established bone loss when alternate therapies are not appropriate or cause side effects, or when outcomes of extended use of those therapies are not known.
- Although specific compounds, doses, and routes of administration may have different outcomes, clinical trial results for one agent should be generalized to all agents within the same family in the absence of data for each specific product. This proviso also applies to the so-called bioidentical products.
The Hormone Therapy panel could not agree unanimously on these questions:
- Should women who are doing well on long-term HT discontinue?
- What is the best way to discontinue HT, abrupt cessation or tapering?
- Is the effect of continuous-combined EPT different from that of continuous estrogen with sequential progestogen?
- How definitive is the evidence on early increased CHD risk with HT?
- Conflicting data precluded a consensus on adverse breast cancer and cardiovascular outcomes associated with ET/EPT.
The following commentaries on key papers are from the NAMS First To Knowemail program for members. I thank the members of NAMS who have taken time out to provide these objective reviews of the studies presented here, and Phil Lammers, NAMS Medical Editor.
McClung MR, Wasnich RD, Hosking DJ, et al, on behalf of the Early Postmenopausal Intervention Cohort (EPIC) study group. Prevention of postmenopausal bone loss: six-year results from the early postmenopausal intervention cohort study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2004;89:4879-4885. LEVEL 1 EVIDENCE: Randomized, controlled trial
In this 6-year study of women in their 50s, the placebo group lost an inconsequential amount of bone mass. Not surprisingly, women using alendronate had some increase in BMD and some reduction in bone turnover markers.
Women in their 50s are not melting away. Their bones are not dissolving out from under them, contrary to what many media reports would have ObGyns and patients believe. Still, many clinicians are enthusiastic about prescribing bone drugs like bisphosphonates to women in their 50s who are generally healthy. (And there is no doubt that we do have bone drugs found to be safe and effective in well-designed trials, including the EPIC study.)