Despite continuing evidence of its value, hormone replacement (HR) therapy is used by only a minority of postmenopausal women. Some of this reluctance may stem from concerns about the medicalization of menopause and the labeling of menopause as a state of failure or disease that needs to be treated. These concerns are understandable given the impact of previous efforts to apply erroneous biological models to women’s physiology, often to their detriment.
Some may assert that current attempts to describe menopause as a state of estrogen deficiency are as wrong as previous explanations that the backing up of menstrual blood required purging and bleeding. However, there is an abundance of research attesting to the value of HR in decreasing such menopausal symptoms as hot flashes and insomnia and in preventing chronic problems, including urogenital atrophy and osteoporosis.
In addition, recent research suggests that estrogen may have positive effects on cognition. Questions about HR and breast cancer remain, and several studies have found a small increase in breast cancer among long-term estrogen users. The recent introduction of selective estrogen response modifiers may further increase the safety of HR therapy.
Many women worried about breast cancer and other possible estrogenic effects of HR are seeking approaches they consider more natural to managing menopause, turning to such untested remedies as soy supplements and herbs. While awaiting rigorous trials, clinicians can help patients understand the consequences of relying on therapies that have unknown long-term safety and effectiveness. White JP, Schilling JS. Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Program, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, USA.