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Menopausal Hormone Therapy for the Primary Prevention of Chronic Conditions: A Systematic Review to Update the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations FREE

Heidi D. Nelson, MD, MPH; Miranda Walker, MA; Bernadette Zakher, MBBS; and Jennifer Mitchell, BA
[+] Article and Author Information

This article was published at www.annals.org on 29 May 2012.


From Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center, Oregon Health & Science University, and Providence Cancer Center, Providence Health & Services, Portland, Oregon.

Disclaimer: The findings and conclusions in this document are those of the authors, who are responsible for its content, and do not necessarily represent the views of AHRQ. No statement in this report should be construed as an official position of AHRQ or of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Acknowledgment: The authors thank Andrew Hamilton, MLS, MS, for conducting literature searches; Rongwei Fu, PhD, for statistical assistance; and Amanda Brunton, BS, for assistance with preparing the manuscript.

Grant Support: By contract HHSA-290-2007-10057-I-EPC3, task order 3, from the AHRQ.

Potential Conflicts of Interest: Dr. Nelson: Grant (money to institution): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; Support for travel to meetings for the study or other purposes (money to institution): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Ms. Walker: Grant (money to institution): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Disclosures can be also viewed at www.acponline.org/authors/icmje/ConflictOfInterestForms.do?msNum=M11-3020.

Requests for Single Reprints: Heidi D. Nelson, MD, MPH, Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center, Oregon Health & Science University, Mailcode BICC, 3181 Southwest Sam Jackson Park Road, Portland, OR 97239-3098; e-mail, nelsonh@ohsu.edu.

Current Author Addresses: Dr. Nelson, Ms. Walker, Dr. Zakher, and Ms. Mitchell: Oregon Health & Science University, Mailcode BICC, 3181 Southwest Sam Jackson Park Road, Portland, OR 97239-3098.

Author Contributions: Conception and design: H.D. Nelson, M. Walker.

Analysis and interpretation of the data: H.D. Nelson, M. Walker, B. Zakher, J. Mitchell.

Drafting of the article: H.D. Nelson, M. Walker, B. Zakher.

Critical revision of the article for important intellectual content: H.D. Nelson, M. Walker, B. Zakher.

Final approval of the article: H.D. Nelson, M. Walker, B. Zakher.

Provision of study materials or patients: H.D. Nelson.

Statistical expertise: H.D. Nelson.

Obtaining of funding: H.D. Nelson.

Administrative, technical, or logistic support: H.D. Nelson, M. Walker, J. Mitchell.

Collection and assembly of data: H.D. Nelson, M. Walker, B. Zakher.


Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(2):104-113. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-157-2-201207170-00466
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This article has been corrected. The original version (PDF) is appended to this article as a supplement.

Background: Menopausal hormone therapy to prevent chronic conditions is currently not recommended because of its adverse effects.

Purpose: To update evidence about the effectiveness of hormone therapy in reducing risk for chronic conditions and adverse effects, and to examine whether outcomes vary among women in different subgroups.

Data Sources: MEDLINE (January 2002 to November 2011), Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (through the 3rd quarter of 2011), Scopus, and reference lists.

Study Selection: Randomized, placebo-controlled trials of menopausal hormone therapy published in English since 2002 that assessed primary prevention of chronic conditions.

Data Extraction: Investigators extracted data on participants, study design, analysis, follow-up, and results; 2 investigators independently rated study quality by using established criteria.

Data Synthesis: 9 fair-quality trials met the inclusion criteria. The Women's Health Initiative reported most of the results, had 11 years of follow-up, and had data most applicable to postmenopausal women in the United States. It showed that estrogen plus progestin therapy reduced fractures (46 fewer per 10 000 woman-years) and increased invasive breast cancer (8 more per 10 000 woman-years), stroke (9 more per 10 000 woman-years), deep venous thrombosis (12 more per 10 000 woman-years), pulmonary embolism (9 more per 10 000 woman-years), lung cancer death (5 more per 10 000 woman-years), gallbladder disease (20 more per 10 000 woman-years), dementia (22 more per 10 000 woman-years), and urinary incontinence (872 more per 10 000 woman-years). Estrogen-only therapy reduced fractures (56 fewer per 10 000 woman-years), invasive breast cancer (8 fewer per 10 000 woman-years), and death (2 fewer per 10 000 woman-years) and increased stroke (11 more per 10 000 woman-years), deep venous thrombosis (7 more per 10 000 woman-years), gallbladder disease (33 more per 10 000 woman-years), and urinary incontinence (1271 more per 10 000 woman-years). Outcomes did not consistently differ by age or comorbid conditions.

Limitation: Limitations of the trials included low adherence, high attrition, inadequate power to detect risks for some outcomes, and evaluation of few regimens.

Conclusion: Estrogen plus progestin and estrogen alone decreased risk for fractures but increased risk for stroke, thromboembolic events, gallbladder disease, and urinary incontinence. Estrogen plus progestin increased risk for breast cancer and probable dementia, whereas estrogen alone decreased risk for breast cancer.

Primary Funding Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.


Menopausal hormone therapy includes various forms, doses, and regimens of estrogen, alone or combined with progestin (1). The combined regimen is used by a woman with a uterus to prevent endometrial proliferation and endometrial cancer (1). Before the WHI (Women's Health Initiative) trials (23), menopausal hormone therapy was routinely used by postmenopausal women to prevent chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, and osteoporosis. However, the initial results of the trials, published for estrogen plus progestin in 2002 (23) and for estrogen alone in 2004 (23), indicated important adverse health effects. In response, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued recommendations against using hormone therapy to prevent chronic conditions for estrogen plus progestin in 2002 (4) and for estrogen alone in 2005 (5). Several other professional groups provided similar recommendations (610). The current indications for use from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration include short-term treatment of menopausal symptoms, such as vasomotor hot flashes or urogenital atrophy, and prevention of osteoporosis (1).

Our systematic review for the USPSTF updates evidence about the effectiveness of hormone therapy in reducing risks for chronic conditions and its adverse effects and examines differences in outcomes among population subgroups. Use of hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms or for other indications is outside the scope of this review. This update focuses on studies published since 2002 and evidence gaps that were unresolved at the time of the previous recommendations.

Key Questions and Analytic Framework

We developed and followed a standard protocol. A technical report (11) details the methods and includes search strategies and additional evidence tables. Key questions were based on evidence from the previous review (12) and developed by using the methods of the USPSTF (13) to address the benefits and harms of menopausal hormone therapy to prevent chronic conditions and differences between population subgroups. Subgroups are defined by premature menopause; surgical menopause; age; type, dose, and method of hormone delivery; and presence of comorbid conditions. Investigators created an analytic framework incorporating the key questions and outlining the patient populations, interventions, outcomes, and harms (Appendix Figure 1).

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Appendix Figure 1.

Analytic framework and key questions.

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The target population includes postmenopausal adult women eligible for hormone therapy. Women with known contraindications, such as thrombotic disorders or hormone-sensitive cancer (1), would be ineligible and are outside the scope of this review. Outcomes include cardiovascular disease, such as coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and thromboembolic disease (deep venous thrombosis [DVT] and pulmonary embolism [PE]); cancer of the breast, colon, lung, endometrium, or ovaries; fractures at various sites; cognition and dementia; disease-specific and all-cause mortality; and new findings reported by the trials. This review includes health outcomes (such as fractures) rather than intermediate outcomes (such as bone mineral density) and emphasizes medications, health care settings, and populations of postmenopausal women applicable to U.S. primary care practice.

Data Sources and Searches

In conjunction with a research librarian, we searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (through the 3rd quarter of 2011), MEDLINE (2002 to 30 November 2011), reference lists of articles, and Scopus for relevant English-language studies and systematic reviews.

Study Selection

We selected studies on the basis of inclusion and exclusion criteria developed for each key question. For all key questions, we included only randomized, controlled trials of postmenopausal hormone therapy versus placebo. We did not include observational studies because of the existence of published randomized trials designed to address the key questions directly and the known biases inherent in observational studies of menopausal hormone use. We included trials that matched the target population, evaluated the primary prevention of new conditions rather than treatment of existing conditions, and provided risk reduction or elevation estimates for hormone therapy compared with placebo. We included estimates for individual hormone therapy regimens and excluded estimates that pooled results from different regimens. For trials that enrolled women with preexisting conditions, such as CHD in HERS (Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study), we used data for all outcomes except preexisting conditions and related conditions.

For trials that reported outcomes at various times, we selected results appropriate to specific outcome measures. For conditions known to be related to ongoing exposure to hormone therapy, such as thromboembolic disease and osteoporotic fractures, we selected results reported at the end of the trial intervention phase. For conditions that were initiated during exposure but continued after the intervention phase, such as cancer, we used results reported at the end of the trial's postintervention phase, if available. We reviewed our selection of results from the WHI trials with the WHI investigators.

Data Extraction and Quality Assessment

From the included studies, an investigator abstracted details of the patient population, study design, analysis, follow-up, and results. Key data elements were confirmed by a second investigator. By using predefined criteria developed by the USPSTF for randomized trials (13), 2 investigators independently rated the quality of studies (good, fair, or poor) and resolved discrepancies by consensus.

Data Synthesis and Analysis

We used results from the WHI trials, including the main trials, WHIMS (Women's Health Initiative Memory Study), and WHISCA (Women's Health Initiative Study of Cognitive Aging), as the main estimates for each outcome rather than perform meta-analysis of all trials because the trials were heterogeneous, they were most applicable to the key questions, and their results would dominate the meta-analysis because of their large enrollment. As a group, the research team used methods developed by the USPSTF to assess the overall quality of the body of evidence for each key question (good, fair, or poor) on the basis of the number, quality, and size of studies; consistency of results between studies; and directness of evidence (13).

External Review

The draft report was reviewed by content experts, USPSTF members, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) program officers, and collaborative partners.

Role of the Funding Source

The AHRQ funded this research under a contract to support the work of the USPSTF. Researchers worked with USPSTF members and AHRQ staff to define the scope, analytic framework, and key questions; resolve issues arising during the project; and review the final report to ensure that it met basic methodological standards for systematic reviews. The AHRQ provided project oversight, reviewed the draft report, and distributed the draft for external review by outside experts. The AHRQ had no role in the selection, critical appraisal, or synthesis of evidence. The investigators were solely responsible for the content and the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Of 4524 abstracts identified from searches, 51 full-text articles from 9 trials (23, 1462) met our inclusion criteria (Appendix Figure 2). We also included an article with new results from the WHI (63) that was published after our literature search.

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Appendix Figure 2.

Summary of evidence search and selection.

EMS = Estrogen Memory Study; ESPRIT = Oestrogen in the Prevention of Reinfarction Trial; HERS = Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study; ULTRA = Ultra–Low-Dose Transdermal Estrogen Assessment; WHI = Women's Health Initiative; WHIMS = Women's Health Initiative Memory Study; WHISCA = Women's Health Initiative Study of Cognitive Aging; WISDOM = Women's International Study of Long-Duration Oestrogen After Menopause.

* Includes the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

† Includes reference lists, Scopus, and studies suggested by experts.

‡ Studies that met the inclusion criteria for the key questions included in this systematic review.

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Characteristics of Included Trials

The 9 placebo-controlled trials were the 2 main WHI trials (23, 1440, 63), WHIMS (4145), WHISCA (4648), EMS (Estrogen Memory Study) (49), HERS (5056), ESPRIT (Oestrogen in the Prevention of Reinfarction Trial) (57), ULTRA (Ultra–Low-Dose Transdermal Estrogen Assessment) (5861), and WISDOM (Women's International Study of Long-Duration Oestrogen After Menopause) (62) (Appendix Table).

Table Jump PlaceholderAppendix Table. Randomized, Controlled Trials Included in This Update 

The main WHI trials compared conjugated equine estrogen (CEE), 0.625 mg/d, plus medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), 2.5 mg/d, with placebo (64) or CEE only with placebo (2) in women with hysterectomies. The trials recruited women aged 50 to 79 years at several sites in the United States, enrolling 16 608 in the estrogen plus progestin trial and 10 739 in the estrogen-only trial. The primary outcome was CHD, and the primary adverse event outcome was invasive breast cancer. Secondary outcomes included fracture incidence at the hip and other sites; stroke; thromboembolism; endometrial, colorectal, and other types of cancer; and mortality. A global index of risks and benefits, including the primary outcomes as well as stroke, PE, colorectal cancer, hip fracture, and death from other causes, was used to summarize overall effects.

The data and safety monitoring boards stopped both trials early because of increased adverse effects of hormone therapy. Although planned for 8.5 years, the estrogen plus progestin trial was stopped in 2002 after an average of 5.2 years because the increases in breast cancer, CHD, stroke, and PE outweighed the reductions in fractures and colon cancer (3). After participants stopped receiving medication, follow-up assessments of outcomes continued until the end of the predefined trial period in 2005 (28); 95% of participants were followed for a postintervention period of 2.5 years (18) and 83% for a further extension period until 2009 (18), for a cumulative follow-up of 11 years. The estrogen-only trial was terminated in 2004 because of an increased risk for stroke in the estrogen group after an average follow-up of 6.8 years. Approximately 78% of participants agreed to continue follow-up for a total of 10.7 years (18, 34).

The WHI was not a head-to-head trial of estrogen plus progestin versus estrogen only. Moreover, the characteristics of women enrolled in the 2 main WHI trials differed (Table 1) (23). Women in the estrogen-only trial had more risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including higher body mass index (BMI); history of myocardial infarctions, stroke, and thromboembolism; higher systolic and diastolic blood pressures; and treatment for elevated cholesterol levels, hypertension, and diabetes. Women in the estrogen-only trial had fewer risk factors for breast cancer, including previous hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy, lower rates of nulliparity, and a smaller proportion of women who first became pregnant at age 30 years or older. More women in the estrogen-only trial had relatives with breast cancer and higher BMI, both of which increase risk for breast cancer.

Table Jump PlaceholderTable 1. Baseline Characteristics of WHI Trial Participants 

Three trials were designed for cognitive outcomes, including the WHIMS and WHISCA trials of women enrolled in the main WHI trials. WHIMS (45) evaluated the effect of hormone therapy on probable dementia in women aged 65 years or older with normal cognition by using the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination. Secondary outcomes were mild cognitive impairment and global cognitive function. WHISCA (4748) enrolled women from 14 of the 39 WHIMS sites to evaluate cognitive function by using a battery of tests. The EMS (49) is a small trial of a cyclic regimen of 17β-estradiol plus norethindrone versus placebo that reported measures of memory (short-delay verbal recall, immediate recall, new list recall, cued recall, and recognition memory).

Two secondary prevention trials evaluated the effect of hormone therapy on CHD events and several additional outcomes. HERS, which compared CEE plus MPA with placebo, enrolled 2763 postmenopausal women with established CHD (50, 54). Primary outcomes included nonfatal myocardial infarction or CHD death. Secondary outcomes included other CHD events, vascular disease, cancer, thromboembolism, gallbladder disease, fractures, mortality, uterine bleeding, and other adverse effects. The trial ended after 4 years; study medication was stopped, although women were instructed to continue hormone therapy under the guidance of their physicians, and follow-up (HERSII) continued for a cumulative period of 6.8 years (5253). ESPRIT, which compared estradiol valerate with placebo, enrolled 1017 postmenopausal women who had just survived their first myocardial infarction (57). The primary outcomes were first nonfatal reinfarction, cardiac death, or death from another cause within 2 years of study entry. Secondary outcomes included uterine bleeding, endometrial cancer, breast cancer, stroke, other thromboembolic events, fractures, and adherence to treatment.

Two other trials provided limited results. The ULTRA trial (58) compared an ultra-low dose of transdermal estradiol (0.014 mg/d) with placebo to evaluate bone mineral density, clinical fractures, endometrial hyperplasia, urinary incontinence, and cognitive function. WISDOM (62) was designed to measure long-term outcomes of CEE plus MPA, primarily major cardiovascular disease events, osteoporotic fractures, and breast cancer. The study closed during the recruitment phase, follow-up was short, the power of the study was greatly reduced, and most outcomes were not obtained.

All trials met the criteria for fair quality. High attrition or low adherence to medications was the most common deficit (WHI [14, 28, 34], HERS [50, 54], and ESPRIT [57]). In the WHI estrogen plus progestin trial, 42% of participants in the hormone group and 38% in the placebo group stopped taking study medications during the trial (14, 28), whereas 54% discontinued therapy in the estrogen-only trial (34). For both WHI trials, the drop-in and drop-out rates exceeded design projections. The WHI trials (23) and WISDOM (62) were discontinued prematurely because of adverse events. Other methodological limitations included differences between groups at baseline (WHIMS [4445], HERS [50, 54], and ULTRA [61]), small sample size (EMS [49]), short follow-up (WISDOM [62]), and unclear ascertainment of some outcomes (WHISCA [4748], EMS [49], and WHI [15, 30, 36, 55]).

Benefits of Menopausal Hormone Therapy to Prevent Chronic Conditions

The results of the trials indicated benefits for women randomly assigned to hormone therapy that varied by regimen (Table 2 provides estimates of relative and absolute benefits). Women receiving estrogen only in the WHI trial had reduced incidence of invasive breast cancer (hazard ratio [HR], 0.77 [95% CI, 0.62 to 0.95]) (34) and reduced breast cancer mortality (HR, 0.37 [CI, 0.13 to 0.91]) (63). Colorectal cancer was reduced for women who received estrogen plus progestin (HR, 0.75 [CI, 0.57 to 1.00]) (28), although the results were of borderline statistical significance. Colorectal cancer was not reduced for women who received estrogen only in the WHI trial (34) or estrogen plus progestin in HERS (53).

Table Jump PlaceholderTable 2. Results of the WHI Trials 

The incidence of diabetes was reduced for women who received estrogen plus progestin in the WHI trial (HR, 0.79 [CI, 0.67 to 0.93]) (36) and in HERS (HR, 0.65 [CI, 0.48 to 0.89]) (55) but not in the WHI estrogen-only trial (15). Diabetes was diagnosed by self-report in the WHI trial and fasting glucose levels of 6.9 mmol/L or greater (≥124.3 mg/dL) in HERS.

Both estrogen plus progestin and estrogen alone reduced hip, vertebral, and total fractures in the WHI trials (28) but not in HERS (53). For estrogen plus progestin, estimates included HRs of 0.67 (CI, 0.47 to 0.95) for hip, 0.68 (CI, 0.48 to 0.96) for vertebral, and 0.76 (CI, 0.69 to 0.83) for total fractures (28). The results of the estrogen-only trial were similar (28).

Harms of Menopausal Hormone Therapy to Prevent Chronic Conditions

The results of the trials indicated several important adverse effects for women randomly assigned to receive hormone therapy (Table 2 provides estimates of relative and absolute risks for harms). Incidence of invasive breast cancer was reduced in the WHI estrogen-only trial but increased in the estrogen plus progestin trial (HR, 1.25 [CI, 1.07 to 1.46]) (18). Hormone users also had more abnormal mammography results, larger tumors, and more advanced stages of breast cancer (18, 20). Other types of cancer, including lung, endometrial, ovarian, and cervical cancer, were not increased in the estrogen plus progestin trial (14, 21, 28), and lung cancer was not increased in the estrogen-only trial (19). Invasive breast, lung, and endometrial cancer were not increased in HERSII (53).

Contrary to the cardioprotective effects initially hypothesized by the WHI investigators, women randomly assigned to receive estrogen plus progestin in the WHI trial had increased incidence of CHD, including nonfatal myocardial infarction and CHD death (HR, 1.22 [CI, 0.99 to 1.51]), that was not statistically significant (28). Coronary heart disease was not increased in women randomly assigned to receive estrogen only (34).

Stroke was increased for both estrogen plus progestin (HR, 1.34 [CI, 1.05 to 1.71]) (28) and estrogen only (HR, 1.36 [CI, 1.08 to 1.71]) (34) in the WHI trials. Thromboembolic events were also increased in the WHI estrogen plus progestin (HRs, 1.88 [CI, 1.38 to 2.55] for DVT and 1.98 [CI, 1.36 to 2.87] for PE) (28) and estrogen-only (HRs, 1.47 [CI, 1.06 to 2.05] for DVT and 1.37 [CI, 0.90 to 2.07] for PE) (34) trials.

No statistically significant increases in all-cause mortality were observed in the WHI estrogen plus progestin (28) or estrogen-only (34) trials, HERSII (53), or ESPRIT (57). Death from breast cancer (HR, 1.96 [CI, 1.00 to 4.04]) (18) and lung cancer (HR, 1.71 [CI, 1.16 to 2.52]) (21) were increased for women in the WHI estrogen plus progestin trial, although results for breast cancer mortality were of borderline statistical significance.

Gallbladder disease was increased in both WHI trials (HRs, 1.61 [CI, 1.30 to 2.00] in the estrogen plus progestin trial and 1.79 [CI, 1.44 to 2.22] in the estrogen-only trial), as were cholecystectomy and cholecystitis (23).

Measures of impaired cognitive function were increased for probable dementia (HR, 2.05 [CI, 1.21 to 3.48]) but not for mild cognitive impairment (45) in women in the WHI estrogen plus progestin trial. Only the composite measure was increased in the WHI estrogen-only trial (HR, 1.38 [CI, 1.01 to 1.89]) (44), and none was increased the ULTRA trial (61).

The incidence of overall urinary incontinence was increased for women in the WHI estrogen plus progestin (relative risk, 1.39 [CI, 1.27 to 1.52]) (30) and estrogen-only (relative risk, 1.53 [CI, 1.37 to 1.71]) (30) trials after 1 year of treatment. Further analysis indicated increased risk for different types of urinary incontinence, including stress, urgency, and mixed. In a subsample of estrogen plus progestin users who were continent at baseline but developed incontinence, incontinence persisted during 3 years of follow-up (30). Weekly stress and urgency incontinence was increased among estrogen plus progestin users in HERS (odds ratio, 1.6 [CI, 1.3 to 1.9]) (56), but urinary incontinence was not significantly increased in the ULTRA trial (60).

Variability of Outcomes in Population Subgroups

Subgroup analyses of results based on individual characteristics were restricted to age and a few comorbid conditions.

In the WHI estrogen plus progestin trial, breast cancer incidence did not significantly differ on the basis of age, BMI, Gail risk score (18, 20), or first-degree family history (26), but increased with previous use of oral contraceptives (20) or menopausal therapy with estrogen plus progestin (18, 20) and with current smoking (20). Age also had no effect on the relationship between hormone therapy and breast cancer incidence in the WHI estrogen-only trial (2), but risks were significantly reduced in women without a previous biopsy indicating benign breast disease or a family history of breast cancer (63).

Subgroup analyses of the WHI estrogen plus progestin trial indicated no statistically significant interactions among several risk factors, hormone therapy, and CHD, except for women with elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol at baseline (35). Overall, CHD events were increased during the first year of the trial compared with later years (35). Similar analyses for the estrogen-only trial indicated that women with elevated levels of C-reactive protein at baseline who received estrogen had a greater risk for CHD, but the results of all other analyses were not statistically significant (33). An additional subgroup analysis of the 2 WHI trials indicated that women initiating hormone therapy within 10 years of menopause had a statistically nonsignificant reduction in CHD risk compared with an increased risk among women initiating therapy 20 or more years since menopause (38).

Risk for stroke was similar for all subgroups evaluated for the 2 WHI trials (28, 34). For thromboembolic disease, use of estrogen plus progestin increased the risks associated with older age, being overweight or obese, or having factor V Leiden (25). Analysis of subgroups in the WHI estrogen-only trial indicated no associations with venous thrombosis (24).

The protective effect of estrogen plus progestin on fractures did not differ by age, BMI, smoking status, history of falls, personal or family history of fracture, calcium intake, previous hormone therapy, bone mineral density, or fracture risk score in the WHI trial (17). No subgroup differences were found in WHIMS (4243). In the WHI trials, urinary incontinence was related to older age and increasing time since menopause (30). In HERS, urinary incontinence was not increased among estrogen plus progestin users younger than 60 years (56).

We found that 9 trials published since 2002 provided outcome data relevant to USPSTF recommendations for postmenopausal hormone therapy (Table 3). Trials included the 2 main WHI trials, 2 trials consisting of subsamples from the WHI trials (WHIMS and WHISCA), EMS, HERS, ESPRIT, ULTRA, and WISDOM. Only the WHI trials were designed and powered to evaluate the effectiveness of hormone therapy for primary prevention of several conditions that were the focus of this review. The WHI trials met criteria for fair quality, provided most of the estimates of benefits and harms, had 11 years of follow-up, and were most applicable to the target population. Although results of the other trials were consistent with the WHI trials for selected outcomes, they measured few outcomes and were often inadequately powered to detect potentially important differences among groups.

The results of the WHI trials indicated some benefits with hormone therapy. Women randomly assigned to estrogen plus progestin had fewer fractures (hip, 6 fewer per 10 000 woman-years; vertebral, 6 fewer per 10 000 woman-years; and total, 46 fewer per 10 000 woman-years) and fewer cases of diabetes (15 fewer per 10 000 woman-years) than those randomly assigned to placebo. Women randomly assigned to estrogen alone had fewer fractures (hip, 7 fewer per 10 000 woman-years; vertebral, 6 fewer per 10 000 woman-years; and total, 56 fewer per 10 000 woman-years) and fewer cases of invasive breast cancer (8 fewer per 10 000 woman-years) and breast cancer deaths (2 fewer per 10 000 woman-years). Whereas fractures were a major predefined secondary outcome and were determined by clinical and radiographic criteria, diabetes was diagnosed on the basis of a less rigorous approach by using post hoc analysis of self-reports. In comparison, women in HERS who received estrogen plus progestin also had reduced risk for diabetes on the basis of blood glucose levels but not reduced fractures.

The WHI trials also demonstrated several harms. Women randomly assigned to estrogen plus progestin had more cases of invasive breast cancer (8 more per 10 000 woman-years), stroke (9 more per 10 000 woman-years), DVT (12 more per 10 000 woman-years), PE (9 more per 10 000 woman-years), gallbladder disease (20 more per 10 000 woman-years), probable dementia (22 more per 10 000 woman-years), and urinary incontinence (872 more per 10 000 woman-years) and more deaths from lung cancer (5 more per 10 000 woman-years) than those randomly assigned to placebo. Women randomly assigned to estrogen alone had more cases of stroke (11 more per 10 000 woman-years), DVT (7 more per 10 000 woman-years), gallbladder disease (33 more per 10 000 woman-years), and urinary incontinence (1271 more per 10 000 woman-years). Women in HERS who received estrogen plus progestin also had increased risk for urinary incontinence.

These results reflect updated estimates from the WHI trials that differ from initial results for some outcomes. For both WHI trials, initial results for invasive breast cancer were not statistically significant. After 11 years of follow-up, results indicated a statistically significant increased risk for breast cancer from estrogen plus progestin and decreased risk from estrogen alone. Although the initial results for estrogen plus progestin indicated reduced risk for colorectal cancer and increased risk for CHD, the updated estimates were of only borderline statistical significance. Updated results for other outcomes did not substantially change from initial estimates. As expected, statistically significant results for outcomes related to ongoing hormone exposure, such as stroke, thromboembolism, and fractures, became nonsignificant during the postintervention period (14, 18, 28, 34). The HRs for breast cancer also decreased after estrogen plus progestin therapy was discontinued, although cases continued to accrue (22).

Subgroup analyses were not performed for women who had premature or surgical menopause or used various types, doses, and methods of hormone delivery. Subgroup analyses based on age and comorbid conditions lacked power for many of the comparisons and indicated few statistically significant differences. These included increased breast cancer for women who received estrogen plus progestin who had previously smoked or used oral contraceptives or postmenopausal estrogen plus progestin; increased CHD for women who received estrogen plus progestin and had high low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels or who received estrogen only and had high C-reactive protein levels; increased thromboembolic disease for women who received estrogen plus progestin and were older or obese or had factor V Leiden; and increased urinary incontinence for older women who received either regimen. Subgroup analyses of CHD outcomes suggested that women who were 20 years or more since menopause or were aged 70 years or older had the highest risks and younger women had lower risk, although these differences were not statistically significant. Other than these findings, trials provided few results applicable to clinical decisions about selecting hormone therapy on the basis of individual patient characteristics.

Our review has limitations. Few trials met our inclusion criteria, although the number of participants was large. Few outcomes were reported in more than 2 trials and measurements varied, limiting comparisons across trials. Most trials had high attrition or low adherence to medications, including the WHI trials, in which nearly one half of the participants discontinued therapy during the trial. Post hoc analysis, small sample sizes, and differential adherence rates also limited the interpretation of results. Our review was limited to trials published in English, although no relevant trials were identified from abstracts of non–English-language journals, additional citation searches, or expert reviewers.

Trial participants were generally aged 60 to 69 years, which restricts the applicability of our findings. Research directed at women who are transitioning through menopause or are immediately postmenopausal (in other words, most current hormone users) would be useful. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved various types, doses, and delivery methods of menopausal hormones with differing physiologic effects (1), prevention trials have largely focused on oral CEE. Additional research is needed to understand the effects of other hormonal agents on health outcomes.

Continuing research is needed on such long-term outcomes as cancer and death to fully understand the implications of hormone therapy. In the WHI estrogen-only trial, a statistically significant reduction in invasive breast cancer incidence and mortality among estrogen users was only recently reported after nearly 11 years of follow-up (34, 63), whereas the results of the estrogen plus progestin trial indicated an increase in breast cancer (18). It is unclear whether this discrepancy is due to the concomitant use of progestin, the differences between women who have had a hysterectomy and those who have not, or other reasons.

In conclusion, our update of evidence from trials published since 2002 indicates that both hormone therapy regimens decrease risk for fractures but increase risk for stroke, thromboembolic events, gallbladder disease, and urinary incontinence. Estrogen plus progestin also increases risk for breast cancer and probable dementia, whereas estrogen alone decreases risk for breast cancer.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  Estrogen and Estrogen with Progestin Therapies for Postmenopausal Women. Silver Spring, MD: U.S. Food and Drug Administration; 2010. Accessed at www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/InformationbyDrugClass/ucm135318.htm on 8 May 2012.
 
Anderson GL, Limacher M, Assaf AR, Bassford T, Beresford SA, Black H, et al, Women's Health Initiative Steering Committee. Effects of conjugated equine estrogen in postmenopausal women with hysterectomy: the Women's Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2004; 291:1701-12.
PubMed
 
Rossouw JE, Anderson GL, Prentice RL, LaCroix AZ, Kooperberg C, Stefanick ML, et al, Writing Group for the Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: principal results From the Women's Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2002; 288:321-33.
PubMed
 
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy for primary prevention of chronic conditions: recommendations and rationale. Ann Intern Med. 2002; 137:834-9.
PubMed
 
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Hormone therapy for the prevention of chronic conditions in postmenopausal women: recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2005; 142:855-60.
PubMed
 
Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.  Hormone Replacement Therapy for the Primary Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Ottawa, Canada: Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care; 2004. Accessed at www.canadiantaskforce.ca/recommendations/2003_01_eng.html on 8 May 2012.
 
Mosca L, Benjamin EJ, Berra K, Bezanson JL, Dolor RJ, Lloyd-Jones DM, et al. Effectiveness-based guidelines for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in women—2011 update: a guideline from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2011; 123:1243-62.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
American Academy of Family Physicians.  Hormone Replacement Therapy. Leawood, KS: American Academy of Family Physicians; 2005. Accessed at www.aafp.org/online/en/home/clinical/exam/hormonereplacement.html on 8 May 2012.
 
North American Menopause Society. The 2012 hormone therapy position statement of: The North American Menopause Society. Menopause. 2012; 19:257-71.
PubMed
 
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Women's Health Care Physicians. ACOG practice bulletin. Clinical management guidelines for obstetrician-gynecologists. Number 50, January 2003. Obstet Gynecol. 2004; 103:203-16.
PubMed
 
Nelson HD, Walker M, Zakher B, Mitchell J. Menopausal Hormone Therapy for the Primary Prevention of Chronic Conditions: Systematic Review to Update the 2002 and 2005 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations. Contract HHSA-290-2007-10057-1-EPC3, task order 3. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2012.
 
Nelson HD, Humphrey LL, Nygren P, Teutsch SM, Allan JD. Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy: scientific review. JAMA. 2002; 288:872-81.
PubMed
 
Harris RP, Helfand M, Woolf SH, Lohr KN, Mulrow CD, Teutsch SM, et al, Methods Work Group, Third US Preventive Services Task Force. Current methods of the US Preventive Services Task Force: a review of the process. Am J Prev Med. 2001; 20:21-35.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Anderson GL, Judd HL, Kaunitz AM, Barad DH, Beresford SA, Pettinger M, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Effects of estrogen plus progestin on gynecologic cancers and associated diagnostic procedures: the Women's Health Initiative randomized trial. JAMA. 2003; 290:1739-48.
PubMed
 
Bonds DE, Lasser N, Qi L, Brzyski R, Caan B, Heiss G, et al. The effect of conjugated equine oestrogen on diabetes incidence: the Women's Health Initiative randomised trial. Diabetologia. 2006; 49:459-68.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Brunner RL, Gass M, Aragaki A, Hays J, Granek I, Woods N, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Effects of conjugated equine estrogen on health-related quality of life in postmenopausal women with hysterectomy: results from the Women's Health Initiative Randomized Clinical Trial. Arch Intern Med. 2005; 165:1976-86.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Cauley JA, Robbins J, Chen Z, Cummings SR, Jackson RD, LaCroix AZ, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Effects of estrogen plus progestin on risk of fracture and bone mineral density: the Women's Health Initiative randomized trial. JAMA. 2003; 290:1729-38.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Chlebowski RT, Anderson GL, Gass M, Lane DS, Aragaki AK, Kuller LH, et al, WHI Investigators. Estrogen plus progestin and breast cancer incidence and mortality in postmenopausal women. JAMA. 2010; 304:1684-92.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Chlebowski RT, Anderson GL, Manson JE, Schwartz AG, Wakelee H, Gass M, et al. Lung cancer among postmenopausal women treated with estrogen alone in the women's health initiative randomized trial. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2010; 102:1413-21.
PubMed
 
Chlebowski RT, Hendrix SL, Langer RD, Stefanick ML, Gass M, Lane D, et al, WHI Investigators. Influence of estrogen plus progestin on breast cancer and mammography in healthy postmenopausal women: the Women's Health Initiative Randomized Trial. JAMA. 2003; 289:3243-53.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Chlebowski RT, Schwartz AG, Wakelee H, Anderson GL, Stefanick ML, Manson JE, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Oestrogen plus progestin and lung cancer in postmenopausal women (Women's Health Initiative trial): a post-hoc analysis of a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2009; 374:1243-51.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Chlebowski RT, Wactawski-Wende J, Ritenbaugh C, Hubbell FA, Ascensao J, Rodabough RJ, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Estrogen plus progestin and colorectal cancer in postmenopausal women. N Engl J Med. 2004; 350:991-1004.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Cirillo DJ, Wallace RB, Rodabough RJ, Greenland P, LaCroix AZ, Limacher MC, et al. Effect of estrogen therapy on gallbladder disease. JAMA. 2005; 293:330-9.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Curb JD, Prentice RL, Bray PF, Langer RD, Van Horn L, Barnabei VM, et al. Venous thrombosis and conjugated equine estrogen in women without a uterus. Arch Intern Med. 2006; 166:772-80.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Cushman M, Kuller LH, Prentice R, Rodabough RJ, Psaty BM, Stafford RS, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Estrogen plus progestin and risk of venous thrombosis. JAMA. 2004; 292:1573-80.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Gramling R, Eaton CB, Rothman KJ, Cabral H, Silliman RA, Lash TL. Hormone replacement therapy, family history, and breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women. Epidemiology. 2009; 20:752-6.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Hays J, Ockene JK, Brunner RL, Kotchen JM, Manson JE, Patterson RE, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Effects of estrogen plus progestin on health-related quality of life. N Engl J Med. 2003; 348:1839-54.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Heiss G, Wallace R, Anderson GL, Aragaki A, Beresford SA, Brzyski R, et al, WHI Investigators. Health risks and benefits 3 years after stopping randomized treatment with estrogen and progestin. JAMA. 2008; 299:1036-45.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Hendrix SL. The Women's Health Initiative estrogen plus progestin trial: the study and how it changes our practice. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2003; 103:S3-5.
PubMed
 
Hendrix SL, Cochrane BB, Nygaard IE, Handa VL, Barnabei VM, Iglesia C, et al. Effects of estrogen with and without progestin on urinary incontinence. JAMA. 2005; 293:935-48.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Hendrix SL, Wassertheil-Smoller S, Johnson KC, Howard BV, Kooperberg C, Rossouw JE, et al, WHI Investigators. Effects of conjugated equine estrogen on stroke in the Women's Health Initiative. Circulation. 2006; 113:2425-34.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Hsia J, Criqui MH, Rodabough RJ, Langer RD, Resnick HE, Phillips LS, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Estrogen plus progestin and the risk of peripheral arterial disease: the Women's Health Initiative. Circulation. 2004; 109:620-6.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Hsia J, Langer RD, Manson JE, Kuller L, Johnson KC, Hendrix SL, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Conjugated equine estrogens and coronary heart disease: the Women's Health Initiative. Arch Intern Med. 2006; 166:357-65.
PubMed
 
LaCroix AZ, Chlebowski RT, Manson JE, Aragaki AK, Johnson KC, Martin L, et al, WHI Investigators. Health outcomes after stopping conjugated equine estrogens among postmenopausal women with prior hysterectomy: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2011; 305:1305-14.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Manson JE, Hsia J, Johnson KC, Rossouw JE, Assaf AR, Lasser NL, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Estrogen plus progestin and the risk of coronary heart disease. N Engl J Med. 2003; 349:523-34.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Margolis KL, Bonds DE, Rodabough RJ, Tinker L, Phillips LS, Allen C, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Effect of oestrogen plus progestin on the incidence of diabetes in postmenopausal women: results from the Women's Health Initiative Hormone Trial. Diabetologia. 2004; 47:1175-87.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Ritenbaugh C, Stanford JL, Wu L, Shikany JM, Schoen RE, Stefanick ML, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Conjugated equine estrogens and colorectal cancer incidence and survival: the Women's Health Initiative randomized clinical trial. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2008; 17:2609-18.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Rossouw JE, Prentice RL, Manson JE, Wu L, Barad D, Barnabei VM, et al. Postmenopausal hormone therapy and risk of cardiovascular disease by age and years since menopause. JAMA. 2007; 297:1465-77.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Toh S, Hernández-Díaz S, Logan R, Rossouw JE, Hernán MA. Coronary heart disease in postmenopausal recipients of estrogen plus progestin therapy: does the increased risk ever disappear? A randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2010; 152:211-7.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Wassertheil-Smoller S, Hendrix SL, Limacher M, Heiss G, Kooperberg C, Baird A, et al, WHI Investigators. Effect of estrogen plus progestin on stroke in postmenopausal women: the Women's Health Initiative: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2003; 289:2673-84.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Culhane NS. Estrogen plus progestin may increase incidence of dementia. J Fam Pract. 2003; 52:754-5.
PubMed
 
Espeland MA, Rapp SR, Shumaker SA, Brunner R, Manson JE, Sherwin BB, et al, Women's Health Initiative Memory Study. Conjugated equine estrogens and global cognitive function in postmenopausal women: Women's Health Initiative Memory Study. JAMA. 2004; 291:2959-68.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Rapp SR, Espeland MA, Shumaker SA, Henderson VW, Brunner RL, Manson JE, et al, WHIMS Investigators. Effect of estrogen plus progestin on global cognitive function in postmenopausal women: the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2003; 289:2663-72.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Shumaker SA, Legault C, Kuller L, Rapp SR, Thal L, Lane DS, et al, Women's Health Initiative Memory Study. Conjugated equine estrogens and incidence of probable dementia and mild cognitive impairment in postmenopausal women: Women's Health Initiative Memory Study. JAMA. 2004; 291:2947-58.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Shumaker SA, Legault C, Rapp SR, Thal L, Wallace RB, Ockene JK, et al, WHIMS Investigators. Estrogen plus progestin and the incidence of dementia and mild cognitive impairment in postmenopausal women: the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2003; 289:2651-62.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Espeland MA, Brunner RL, Hogan PE, Rapp SR, Coker LH, Legault C, et al, Women's Health Initiative Study of Cognitive Aging Study Group. Long-term effects of conjugated equine estrogen therapies on domain-specific cognitive function: results from the Women's Health Initiative study of cognitive aging extension. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010; 58:1263-71.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Resnick SM, Espeland MA, An Y, Maki PM, Coker LH, Jackson R, et al, Women's Health Initiative Study of Cognitive Aging Investigators. Effects of conjugated equine estrogens on cognition and affect in postmenopausal women with prior hysterectomy. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009; 94:4152-61.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Resnick SM, Maki PM, Rapp SR, Espeland MA, Brunner R, Coker LH, et al, Women's Health Initiative Study of Cognitive Aging Investigators. Effects of combination estrogen plus progestin hormone treatment on cognition and affect. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006; 91:1802-10.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Tierney MC, Oh P, Moineddin R, Greenblatt EM, Snow WG, Fisher RH, et al. A randomized double-blind trial of the effects of hormone therapy on delayed verbal recall in older women. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009; 34:1065-74.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Grady D, Applegate W, Bush T, Furberg C, Riggs B, Hulley SB. Heart and Estrogen/progestin Replacement Study (HERS): design, methods, and baseline characteristics. Control Clin Trials. 1998; 19:314-35.
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Grady D, Yaffe K, Kristof M, Lin F, Richards C, Barrett-Connor E. Effect of postmenopausal hormone therapy on cognitive function: the Heart and Estrogen/progestin Replacement Study. Am J Med. 2002; 113:543-8.
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Grady D, Herrington D, Bittner V, Blumenthal R, Davidson M, Hlatky M, et al, HERS Research Group. Cardiovascular disease outcomes during 6.8 years of hormone therapy: Heart and Estrogen/progestin Replacement Study follow-up (HERS II). JAMA. 2002; 288:49-57.
PubMed
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Hulley S, Furberg C, Barrett-Connor E, Cauley J, Grady D, Haskell W, et al, HERS Research Group. Noncardiovascular disease outcomes during 6.8 years of hormone therapy: Heart and Estrogen/progestin Replacement Study follow-up (HERS II). JAMA. 2002; 288:58-66.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Hulley S, Grady D, Bush T, Furberg C, Herrington D, Riggs B, et al. Randomized trial of estrogen plus progestin for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease in postmenopausal women. Heart and Estrogen/progestin Replacement Study (HERS) Research Group. JAMA. 1998; 280:605-13.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Kanaya AM, Herrington D, Vittinghoff E, Lin F, Grady D, Bittner V, et al, Heart and Estrogen/progestin Replacement Study. Glycemic effects of postmenopausal hormone therapy: the Heart and Estrogen/progestin Replacement Study. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2003; 138:1-9.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Steinauer JE, Waetjen LE, Vittinghoff E, Subak LL, Hulley SB, Grady D, et al. Postmenopausal hormone therapy: does it cause incontinence? Obstet Gynecol. 2005; 106:940-5.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Cherry N, Gilmour K, Hannaford P, Heagerty A, Khan MA, Kitchener H, et al, ESPRIT team. Oestrogen therapy for prevention of reinfarction in postmenopausal women: a randomised placebo controlled trial. Lancet. 2002; 360:2001-8.
PubMed
 
Ettinger B, Ensrud KE, Wallace R, Johnson KC, Cummings SR, Yankov V, et al. Effects of ultralow-dose transdermal estradiol on bone mineral density: a randomized clinical trial. Obstet Gynecol. 2004; 104:443-51.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Johnson SR, Ettinger B, Macer JL, Ensrud KE, Quan J, Grady D. Uterine and vaginal effects of unopposed ultralow-dose transdermal estradiol. Obstet Gynecol. 2005; 105:779-87.
PubMed
 
Waetjen LE, Brown JS, Vittinghoff E, Ensrud KE, Pinkerton J, Wallace R, et al. The effect of ultralow-dose transdermal estradiol on urinary incontinence in postmenopausal women. Obstet Gynecol. 2005; 106:946-52.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Yaffe K, Vittinghoff E, Ensrud KE, Johnson KC, Diem S, Hanes V, et al. Effects of ultra-low-dose transdermal estradiol on cognition and health-related quality of life. Arch Neurol. 2006; 63:945-50.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Vickers MR, Martin J, Meade TW, WISDOM study team. The Women's international study of long-duration oestrogen after menopause (WISDOM): a randomised controlled trial. BMC Womens Health. 2007; 7:2.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Anderson GL, Chlebowski RT, Aragaki AK, Kuller LH, Manson JE, Gass M, et al. Conjugated equine oestrogen and breast cancer incidence and mortality in postmenopausal women with hysterectomy: extended follow-up of the Women's Health Initiative randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet Oncol. 2012; 13:476-86.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
The Women's Health Initiative Study Group. Design of the Women's Health Initiative clinical trial and observational study. Control Clin Trials. 1998; 19:61-109.
PubMed
 

Figures

Grahic Jump Location
Appendix Figure 1.

Analytic framework and key questions.

Grahic Jump Location
Grahic Jump Location
Appendix Figure 2.

Summary of evidence search and selection.

EMS = Estrogen Memory Study; ESPRIT = Oestrogen in the Prevention of Reinfarction Trial; HERS = Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study; ULTRA = Ultra–Low-Dose Transdermal Estrogen Assessment; WHI = Women's Health Initiative; WHIMS = Women's Health Initiative Memory Study; WHISCA = Women's Health Initiative Study of Cognitive Aging; WISDOM = Women's International Study of Long-Duration Oestrogen After Menopause.

* Includes the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

† Includes reference lists, Scopus, and studies suggested by experts.

‡ Studies that met the inclusion criteria for the key questions included in this systematic review.

Grahic Jump Location

Tables

Table Jump PlaceholderAppendix Table. Randomized, Controlled Trials Included in This Update 
Table Jump PlaceholderTable 1. Baseline Characteristics of WHI Trial Participants 
Table Jump PlaceholderTable 2. Results of the WHI Trials 

References

U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  Estrogen and Estrogen with Progestin Therapies for Postmenopausal Women. Silver Spring, MD: U.S. Food and Drug Administration; 2010. Accessed at www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/InformationbyDrugClass/ucm135318.htm on 8 May 2012.
 
Anderson GL, Limacher M, Assaf AR, Bassford T, Beresford SA, Black H, et al, Women's Health Initiative Steering Committee. Effects of conjugated equine estrogen in postmenopausal women with hysterectomy: the Women's Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2004; 291:1701-12.
PubMed
 
Rossouw JE, Anderson GL, Prentice RL, LaCroix AZ, Kooperberg C, Stefanick ML, et al, Writing Group for the Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: principal results From the Women's Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2002; 288:321-33.
PubMed
 
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy for primary prevention of chronic conditions: recommendations and rationale. Ann Intern Med. 2002; 137:834-9.
PubMed
 
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Hormone therapy for the prevention of chronic conditions in postmenopausal women: recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2005; 142:855-60.
PubMed
 
Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.  Hormone Replacement Therapy for the Primary Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Ottawa, Canada: Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care; 2004. Accessed at www.canadiantaskforce.ca/recommendations/2003_01_eng.html on 8 May 2012.
 
Mosca L, Benjamin EJ, Berra K, Bezanson JL, Dolor RJ, Lloyd-Jones DM, et al. Effectiveness-based guidelines for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in women—2011 update: a guideline from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2011; 123:1243-62.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
American Academy of Family Physicians.  Hormone Replacement Therapy. Leawood, KS: American Academy of Family Physicians; 2005. Accessed at www.aafp.org/online/en/home/clinical/exam/hormonereplacement.html on 8 May 2012.
 
North American Menopause Society. The 2012 hormone therapy position statement of: The North American Menopause Society. Menopause. 2012; 19:257-71.
PubMed
 
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Women's Health Care Physicians. ACOG practice bulletin. Clinical management guidelines for obstetrician-gynecologists. Number 50, January 2003. Obstet Gynecol. 2004; 103:203-16.
PubMed
 
Nelson HD, Walker M, Zakher B, Mitchell J. Menopausal Hormone Therapy for the Primary Prevention of Chronic Conditions: Systematic Review to Update the 2002 and 2005 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations. Contract HHSA-290-2007-10057-1-EPC3, task order 3. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2012.
 
Nelson HD, Humphrey LL, Nygren P, Teutsch SM, Allan JD. Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy: scientific review. JAMA. 2002; 288:872-81.
PubMed
 
Harris RP, Helfand M, Woolf SH, Lohr KN, Mulrow CD, Teutsch SM, et al, Methods Work Group, Third US Preventive Services Task Force. Current methods of the US Preventive Services Task Force: a review of the process. Am J Prev Med. 2001; 20:21-35.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Anderson GL, Judd HL, Kaunitz AM, Barad DH, Beresford SA, Pettinger M, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Effects of estrogen plus progestin on gynecologic cancers and associated diagnostic procedures: the Women's Health Initiative randomized trial. JAMA. 2003; 290:1739-48.
PubMed
 
Bonds DE, Lasser N, Qi L, Brzyski R, Caan B, Heiss G, et al. The effect of conjugated equine oestrogen on diabetes incidence: the Women's Health Initiative randomised trial. Diabetologia. 2006; 49:459-68.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Brunner RL, Gass M, Aragaki A, Hays J, Granek I, Woods N, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Effects of conjugated equine estrogen on health-related quality of life in postmenopausal women with hysterectomy: results from the Women's Health Initiative Randomized Clinical Trial. Arch Intern Med. 2005; 165:1976-86.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Cauley JA, Robbins J, Chen Z, Cummings SR, Jackson RD, LaCroix AZ, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Effects of estrogen plus progestin on risk of fracture and bone mineral density: the Women's Health Initiative randomized trial. JAMA. 2003; 290:1729-38.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Chlebowski RT, Anderson GL, Gass M, Lane DS, Aragaki AK, Kuller LH, et al, WHI Investigators. Estrogen plus progestin and breast cancer incidence and mortality in postmenopausal women. JAMA. 2010; 304:1684-92.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Chlebowski RT, Anderson GL, Manson JE, Schwartz AG, Wakelee H, Gass M, et al. Lung cancer among postmenopausal women treated with estrogen alone in the women's health initiative randomized trial. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2010; 102:1413-21.
PubMed
 
Chlebowski RT, Hendrix SL, Langer RD, Stefanick ML, Gass M, Lane D, et al, WHI Investigators. Influence of estrogen plus progestin on breast cancer and mammography in healthy postmenopausal women: the Women's Health Initiative Randomized Trial. JAMA. 2003; 289:3243-53.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Chlebowski RT, Schwartz AG, Wakelee H, Anderson GL, Stefanick ML, Manson JE, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Oestrogen plus progestin and lung cancer in postmenopausal women (Women's Health Initiative trial): a post-hoc analysis of a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2009; 374:1243-51.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Chlebowski RT, Wactawski-Wende J, Ritenbaugh C, Hubbell FA, Ascensao J, Rodabough RJ, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Estrogen plus progestin and colorectal cancer in postmenopausal women. N Engl J Med. 2004; 350:991-1004.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Cirillo DJ, Wallace RB, Rodabough RJ, Greenland P, LaCroix AZ, Limacher MC, et al. Effect of estrogen therapy on gallbladder disease. JAMA. 2005; 293:330-9.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Curb JD, Prentice RL, Bray PF, Langer RD, Van Horn L, Barnabei VM, et al. Venous thrombosis and conjugated equine estrogen in women without a uterus. Arch Intern Med. 2006; 166:772-80.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Cushman M, Kuller LH, Prentice R, Rodabough RJ, Psaty BM, Stafford RS, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Estrogen plus progestin and risk of venous thrombosis. JAMA. 2004; 292:1573-80.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Gramling R, Eaton CB, Rothman KJ, Cabral H, Silliman RA, Lash TL. Hormone replacement therapy, family history, and breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women. Epidemiology. 2009; 20:752-6.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Hays J, Ockene JK, Brunner RL, Kotchen JM, Manson JE, Patterson RE, et al, Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Effects of estrogen plus progestin on health-related quality of life. N Engl J Med. 2003; 348:1839-54.
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Posted on August 20, 2012
Teresa Schaer, MD, FACP, Associate Clinical Professor, Internal Medicine
UMDNJ- Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, NJ
Conflict of Interest: None Declared

To the Editor:

 In reading the article on Menopausal Hormone Therapy by Nelson and colleagues (1), I was concerned to find that the “systematic review” is far from comprehensive. In particular, the review did not include the many studies that show how the human, non-pharmacologically altered form of progesterone—sometimes referred to as “natural” or “bioidentical” progesterone—is beneficial for the treatment and prevention of many chronic conditions, including neurologic disorders such as dementia, and stroke (2) (3), cardiovascular disease (4) (5), and osteoporosis (6) (7), in addition to breast cancer (8) (9).

 It is true that progestin, the pharmacologically altered form of progesterone, has been associated with many negative health effects, as cited in the article. However studies comparing human progesterone with progestins have found that the two molecules cannot be equated. For example, a 2005 review of the literature by Compagnoli, et al, (8) in which the two hormones were compared, the authors concluded that progestin increases the risk of breast cancer while human progesterone (called “natural progesterone” by the authors) “does not have a detrimental effect on breast tissue.”  In addition, a prospective study by Fournier, et al, (9) followed a group of over 80,000 women on hormone replacement therapies (HRTs), and found that over an eight year period there was an increase risk of breast cancer found only in the groups taking estrogen alone or estrogen with progestins, but no such increase in those on estrogen with progesterone.

The studies cited below, and many others as well, show similar differences in the effects of the two hormones. It’s critical that we not confuse the negative impacts of progestin on health with the overwhelmingly positive effects of taking progesterone. This important point should not be lost in reviewing the studies on hormones, or else it could discourage women from starting or continuing treatment with the safer, beneficial version of the hormone.

 Teresa M. Schaer MD, FACP

 References

(1) Nelson, HD et al. Menopausal Hormone Therapy for the primary Prevention of Chronic Conditions:  A Systematic Review to Update the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations.  Ann Intern Med. 2012;157:104-113.

(2) Brinton RD, et al.  Progesterone Receptors: Form and Function in Brain.  Front Neuroendocrinol. 2008 May; 29(2): 313–339.

 (3) Stein D. The Case for Progesterone.  Ann NY Acad Sci. 2005; 1052:152-169.

 (4) Rosano GMC, et al.  Natural Progesterone, but Not Medroxyprogesterone Acetate, Enhances the Beneficial Effect of Estrogen on Exercise-Induced Myocardial Ischemia in Postmenopausal Women.  J Am Coll Cardiol 2000; 36: 2154-2159.

 (5) Hermsmeyer RK, et al.  Prevention of Coronary Hyperractivity in Preatherogenic Menopausal Rhesus Monkeys by Transdermal Progesterone.  Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2004; 24:955-961.

 (6) Seifert-Klauss V and Prior JC.  Review article, Progesterone and Bone: Actions Promoting Bone Health in Women.  J Osteoporos. 2010; 2010: 845180.

 (7) Heersche JNM, Bellows, CG, Ishida Y.  The decrease in bone mass associated with aging and menopause.  J Prosthet dent 1998;79:14-16 

(8)Campagnoli C, et al. Progestins and progesterone in hormone replacement therapy and the risk of breast cancer.  J Steroid Biochem & Molec Bio 2005: 96;95-108.

 (9) Fournier A, Berrino F, Clavel-Chapelon F.  Unequal risks for breast cancer associated with different hormone replacement therapies: results from the E3N cohort study.  Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2008; 107:103-111

 

 

 

 

Author's Response
Posted on September 19, 2012
Heidi D. Nelson MD, MPH
Oregon Health & Science University
Conflict of Interest: None Declared

Dr. Schaer is correct that studies of the human non-pharmacologically altered form of progesterone were not included in our systematic review of menopausal hormone therapy for the primary prevention of chronic conditions (1). Although all types of hormone therapy were included in our searches of reference databases, studies of progesterone were not included in the systematic review because they did not meet the inclusion criteria detailed in the methods section of the article and technical report (2). The inclusion criteria were developed to identify the strongest available evidence to address the key questions of the review (i.e., the benefits and harms of menopausal hormone therapy when used to prevent chronic conditions, and the variability of outcomes in population subgroups). The systematic review included only randomized controlled trials that enrolled postmenopausal women and compared hormone therapy against placebo. Trials were included if they evaluated the primary prevention of new conditions and reported predetermined health outcomes rather than intermediate outcomes (e.g., fractures not bone density). None of the studies of progesterone met these criteria. In the discussion section of the review, we acknowledged the limitations of this approach and called for additional trials of other hormonal agents.

Heidi D. Nelson MD, MPH    Oregon Health & Science University

References

1. Nelson, HD, Walker MW, Zakher B, Mitchell J. Menopausal hormone therapy for the primary prevention of chronic conditions: A systematic review to update the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157:104-113.

2. Nelson, HD, Walker MW, Zakher B, Mitchell J. Menopausal Hormone Therapy for the Primary Prevention of Chronic Conditions: A Systematic Review to Update the 2002 and 2005 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations. Contract HHSA-290-2007-10057-1-EPC3, task order 3, Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2012.

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