Despite the increased likelihood of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer and blood clots, new analysis from Datamonitor suggests that the benefits of hormone replacement therapy outweigh the risks.

The report looks at the response to the notorious Women’s Health Initiative study in 2002, which found that while HRT reduced the risk of osteoporotic fractures and colon cancer, the aforementioned problems outweighed the benefits [[10/07/02b]]. The findings led to a dramatic reduction in the use of HRT and wiped off $850million off its market value in 2003. However, Datamonitor claims the WHI study was flawed.

In particular, two-thirds of the participants were over the age of 60 and not representative of typical HRT users. Furthermore, the majority of women in the study were obese, so more prone to cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, “The initial hysteria… led about 66% of women to halt their HRT regimes. The intense media scrutiny and flow of findings from WHI post-analysis continued to feed the confusion among women,” Datamonitor’s women’s health analyst Victoria Williams says, noting that many women have since returned to HRT.

She claims “oestrogen therapy is the only proven, effective treatment for the myriad of symptoms of the menopause and should not be restricted to they severely symptomatic patient population.” While there is a need for a viable, safe, alternative drug to hormone therapy, “there is also a more immediate need for guidelines for physicians on how to prescribe it. Most recommendations currently focus on what not to do.” She added that “media-fuelled misinterpretation and miscommunication of trial results has lead to a culture of fear among patients… however, the limitations of the study’s findings have not received such wide-reaching coverage.”

HRT companies responded by launching new versions of their old brands but with lower doses of hormones, but “while these products might be easier to get through the regulatory process, there’s little long-term evidence to prove that they carry fewer risks and many doctors remain sceptical,” Ms Williams says. She concluded by saying that innovation and investment are needed to revitalise the market and “with a rapidly ageing female population… you can’t argue that the market is not there.”