Current evidence is reviewed here on risks and benefits of estrogen and progestin use by peri- and postmenopausal women in relation to the following conditions: endometrial cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis, and coronary artery disease (CAD). On balance, estrogen therapy appears to be beneficial for menopausal women, as it probably reduces the risks of CAD and osteoporosis, two of the major causes of mortality and morbidity. Although unopposed estrogen therapy increases the risk of endometrial cancer, that cancer is relatively rare and is not fatal in the vast majority of cases associated with estrogen use. Definitive conclusions about the relation of menopausal estrogens to breast cancer cannot be drawn due to inconsistent evidence to date. Although evidence from randomized controlled trials is lacking, biochemical and clinical evidence suggest that progestin supplementation is associated with a reduction in endometrial cancer risk in women taking menopausal estrogens. Progestin supplementation also may augment the beneficial effects of estrogens in providing protection against osteoporosis, although this effect is not yet well established. There is little direct evidence bearing on the relation of menopausal progestins to breast cancer. Although studies of CAD per se are lacking at present, progestins probably unfavorably alter lipoprotein profiles, thereby increasing a user's risk of CAD. Given the relatively high incidence and mortality of CAD in postmenopausal women, any negative effects on CAD risk could potentially counterbalance beneficial effects on other causes. We conclude that estrogen replacement therapy is of potential benefit to postmenopausal women, but that the question of progestin supplementation requires further study, particularly for CAD risk.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health