Menopause and Hormone Therapy
Ten years ago, a sea change began in health care for women at menopause and beyond. Before that, health care providers routinely prescribed hormone therapy (HT) to healthy women, based on claims that it would prevent age-related health conditions – everything from heart disease, to dementia and wrinkles. Even women who never experienced a single hot flash – which HT can reduce -- were advised to start taking hormones when they reached menopause. These claims were not supported by good evidence, and the practice was driven by millions of dollars of drug company marketing. By 1999, there were more than 90 million HT prescriptions written annually, producing substantial revenue for drug companies.
But on July 9, 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), the largest preventive women’s health study ever conducted in the United States, released groundbreaking research findings which changed all of that. The WHI included two clinical trials to evaluate HT. Those trials showed that HT was actually increasing breast cancer and heart disease in otherwise healthy women.
The NWHN was a leading advocate for starting the WHI. As a result of our work, women and our health care providers now have reliable evidence about the safety and effectiveness of these drugs.
When the WHI results came out, many women voted with their feet – HT prescriptions dropped by almost a third in the first year and have continued to decline since then. And breast cancer rates dropped significantly for the first time in U.S. history -- there are 160,000 women who were not diagnosed with breast cancer over the last 10 years because they avoided unnecessary exposure to drugs that would have caused it.
Despite these unprecedented achievements, the WHI’s results are still questioned by some who continue to promote unproven theories about how taking hormones benefits women’s health. Fortunately, the NWHN is still working hard to keep women informed and to set the record straight. We’re also continuing our independent advocacy for changes in policies and practices to better meet the health care needs of older women, and to prevent the repetition of past mistakes:
- stronger protections from misleading promotion of unproven and unsafe drugs
- increased investment in research to develop safer alternatives to treat hot flashes
- the inclusion of more women in heart disease prevention research
- increased investment in primary prevention research to stop women from getting breast cancer
To learn more about the WHI findings and how they’ve changed clinical practice and to learn about ongoing women’s health advocacy to advance these goals, check out the NWHN’s new HT and menopause fact sheets, watch for our blog carnival on the Women’s Health and the WHI starting on the July 9 anniversary.
If you want to share your story about how the WHI affected your life or show your appreciation for the breast cancers prevented by this landmark research, you can do that through the NWHN’s WHI story bank and photo-collage.