Doctors and public health experts pick sides in another key debate as once again the public is left scratching heads
Good lord they’re at it again.
This time the focus is HRT and its potential risks to women who take it to relieve extreme menopausal symptoms.
HRT has been a blessed relief to many women who have suffered unbearable discomfort and hardship as a result of being hit with the worst forms of menopausal afflictions.
But there has always been the spectre of potentially harmful side-effects associated with the introduction of powerful hormones into the body, even if they are supplementary to those already present.
The suspicion is that the treatment could significantly increase the risk of cancer (especially ovarian and breast cancer), strokes and diabetes.
In the late 1990s a number of studies identified a significant statistical rise in the risks for older women taking HRT in all these areas culminating in a 2001 report confirming a link between HRT and breast cancer.
Since then the guidelines set for the use of HRT in the UK have remained the same, that it should be used only in extreme cases and only for the shortest possible time.
The problem is that this can often translate into little more than ‘respite’ care for sufferers who are given a limited course of treatment by their GP only to find their condition returns as soon as the therapy ends.
Then, just last week, an American study examining ten years of data announced that they found no significant difference in the risks of women who were taking HRT and women who weren’t.
This was, of course, the cue for numerous “HRT is safe” headlines.
Today, the expected pushback got into full swing as both Cancer Research UK and Britain’s most respected expert on the subject both cast doubt on the new findings.
The cancer charity said it was “highly alarmed” by the conclusions drawn in the new research.
Dame Valerie Beral, Professor of epidemiology at Oxford University and lead scientist in the Million Women Study, an ongoing research programme into the health of women over 50 which analyses data from over a million women, went much further.
She pointed out that over 50 different studies in the last ten years had reached entirely different conclusions and stated definitively that if the use of HRT increase, more women would die of cancer.
All of which leaves the 2.6 million women in the UK who are already using HRT with no more reassurance than they had before, and the millions of baby boomer generation women who are swelling the ranks of those who suffer from the severe menopausal issues more unsure than ever.
In this matter, as in so many others, it is vital that GPs and health consultants arm themselves with all the appropriate information they can, and present that information to the patient as a fair representation our best understanding.
Only then can a patient make an informed choice; which is really what each of wants to be able to do.
It’s our risk, give us the tools to take it, or not, in full knowledge of the consequences.
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