Purpose: To critically review the risks and benefits of hormone therapy for asymptomatic postmenopausal women who are considering long-term hormone therapy to prevent disease or to prolong life.
Data sources: Review of the English-language literature since 1970 on the effect of estrogen therapy and estrogen plus progestin therapy on endometrial cancer, breast cancer, coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, and stroke. We used standard meta-analytic statistical methods to pool estimates from studies to determine summary relative risks for these diseases in hormone users and modified lifetable methods to estimate changes in lifetime probability and life expectancy due to use of hormone regimens.
Results: There is evidence that estrogen therapy decreases risk for coronary heart disease and for hip fracture, but long-term estrogen therapy increases risk for endometrial cancer and may be associated with a small increase in risk for breast cancer. The increase in endometrial cancer risk can probably be avoided by adding a progestin to the estrogen regimen for women who have a uterus, but the effects of combination hormones on risk for other diseases has not been adequately studied. We present estimates for changes in lifetime probabilities of disease and life expectancy due to hormone therapy in women who have had a hysterectomy; with coronary heart disease; and at increased risk for coronary heart disease, hip fracture, and breast cancer.
Conclusions: Hormone therapy should probably be recommended for women who have had a hysterectomy and for those with coronary heart disease or at high risk for coronary heart disease. For other women, the best course of action is unclear.