According to a new guideline by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), more women suffering with severe menopausal symptoms could be offered hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
NICE has said that women should be offered HRT for hot flushes and night sweats after discussion of the risks and benefits. Research has shown that HRT increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, while links have also been made with stroke and heart attack.
‘Though HRT has reported to cause breast cancer and ovarian cancer in women, NICE guideline focuses on giving HRT as an option for women suffering with severe menopausal symptoms.’
According to a Cancer Research UK study in 2002, for every 1,000 women in the UK using any type of HRT for five years from age 50, there is one extra case of ovarian cancer. For every 1,000 women using estrogen-only HRT over the same period, there is thought to be 1.5 extra cases of breast cancer, and six extra cases of breast cancer per 1,000 women taking the combination estrogen-progestogen HRT.
Professor Mary Ann Lumsden, chair of the Nice expert group, said, "HRT is a very effective treatment for menopausal symptoms. Some women are very severely affected by the menopause. Symptoms are "really bothersome" - which can include low mood, hot flushes, loss of sexual desire and vaginal dryness - occur in about 20 to 25% of menopausal women."
"An estimated 1.5 million women - around 80% of those going through menopause experience some symptoms, which typically continue for around four years after the last period. For around 10% of women, symptoms can last for up to 12 years. The average age for menopause in the UK is 51," she added.
HRT treats symptoms of the menopause and the natural loss of estrogen by boosting the body with female sex hormones.
There are three types of HRT - estrogen-only; cyclical HRT, where estrogen is taken continuously but progestogen, another female sex hormone, is given in monthly or three-monthly doses; and continuous combined HRT of estrogen and progestogen.
Prof Lumsden said, "What we would like is that people who need it and would benefit it, have the option of considering it. At the moment, everyone has lost confidence in it but we would like more confidence in explaining the treatment options so individual women can be part of the decision-making."
She said the guideline was not intended to increase the number of women on HRT. Instead it will be available as an option for women suffering with severe menopausal symptoms.
Dr David Richmond, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said, "The guideline is "a milestone". For some women, menopausal symptoms can be extremely debilitating and dramatically impact upon their quality of life."