LIFESTYLE

Doctors Should Prescribe HRT To Menopausal Women, Says Health Watchdog

12/11/2015 10:55 GMT | Updated 12/11/2015 11:59 GMT

More than one million women could benefit from hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help them manage symptoms of the menopause, England's health watchdog has said.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued new guidelines on 12 November advising doctors to consider offering HRT to more women.

The treatment works by replacing oestrogen which has been reduced in the body.

Safety concerns have previously been raised over HRT after a study showed women were more likely to develop breast cancer. This led to thousands of women shying away from the treatment.

But NICE said that women should be prescribed HRT because it can be extremely effective for symptoms including hot flushes, mood swings and depression.

menopause

The guidelines contradict a study of more than one million women from 2003, which claimed HRT increased the incidence of breast and ovarian cancer.

NICE said that the breast cancer risk for women around menopausal age varies from one woman to another.

"HRT with oestrogen alone is associated with little or no change in the risk of breast cancer," read the guidelines. "HRT with oestrogen and progestogen can be associated with an increase in the risk of breast cancer."

According to NICE, any increase in the risk of breast cancer is "related to treatment duration" and reduces after stopping hormone replacement therapy.

The organisation hopes more doctors will discuss the possibilities of HRT with their patients, in a bid to make an informed decision about the best course of treatment for them.

The NICE guidelines also advise menopausal women who have had breast cancer, or have a family history of the disease, to speak to a specialist regarding suitable treatment options.

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Dr Helen Webberley, the dedicated GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, says women shouldn't be afraid of speaking up if they want the treatment. And equally, some GPs need to be better informed, too.

"Many women and doctors have been scared off HRT, although it is known to be very safe and effective," she tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle.

"I have a lot of requests from women wishing to receive HRT who have been denied the treatment by their GP.

"GPs can be ill-informed and scared of prescribing HRT and are not willing to have a proper discussion with their patients about the risks and benefits."

She adds: "Any woman who is under 52, when they go through the menopause, should be actively encouraged to have replacement therapy, and the option should be available for those over 50, with decisions being tailor-made after sound discussions.

"Some women currently feel that they need to be stoical and just 'get on' with the symptoms, but for many it is truly miserable.

"The risks need to be weighed up very carefully with the perceived benefits, and doctors need to be prepared to have this discussion in an evidence-based way with their patients."

Following the release of the new guidelines Professor Valerie Beral, who led the 2003 'Million Women' study linking HRT to breast and ovarian cancer, told the Guardian that there's still a risk.

"About one million UK women are currently using hormones for the menopause," she said.

"Among them, about 10,000 extra breast cancers are estimated to occur in the next 10 years [40,000 in total, instead of 30,000 if the women had not used the hormones].

"Also about 1,000 extra ovarian cancers are estimated to occur among them in the next 10 years [6,000 in total]."

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