Hormone therapy remains a topic for debate, but a constant in the 2 decades since the Women’s Health Initiative has been the demonstrated effectiveness for relief of vasomotor symptoms and reduction of fracture risk in menopausal women, according to the latest hormone therapy position statement of the North American Menopause Society.
“Healthcare professionals caring for menopausal women should understand the basic concepts of relative risk and absolute risk,” wrote Stephanie S. Faubion, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health and medical director of NAMS, and members of the NAMS 2022 Hormone Therapy Position Statement Advisory Panel in Menopause.
The authors noted that the risks of hormone therapy vary considerably based on type, dose, duration, route of administration, timing of the start of therapy, and whether or not a progestogen is included.
The 2022 statement was commissioned to review new literature and identify the strength of recommendations and quality of evidence since the previous statement in 2017.
The current statement represents not so much a practice-changing update, “but rather that the literature has filled out in some areas,” Faubion said in an interview. “The recommendations overall haven’t changed,” she said. “The position statement reiterates that hormone therapy, which is significantly underutilized, remains a safe and effective treatment for menopause symptoms, which remain undertreated, with the benefits outweighing the risks for most healthy women who are within 10 years of menopause onset and under the age of 60 years,” she emphasized. “Individualizing therapy is key to maximizing benefits and minimizing risks,” she added.
Overall, the authors confirmed that hormone therapy remains the most effective treatment for vasomotor symptoms (VMS) and the genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), and has been shown to prevent bone loss and fracture. The risks of hormone therapy differ depending on type, dose, duration of use, route of administration, timing of initiation, and whether a progestogen is used.
Risks and benefits should be stratified by age and time since the start of menopause, according to the statement.
For women younger than 60 years or within 10 years of the onset of menopause who have no contraindications, the potential benefits outweigh the risks in most cases for use of hormone therapy to manage vasomotor symptoms and to help prevent bone loss and reduce fracture risk.
For women who begin hormone therapy more than 10 or 20 years from the start of menopause, or who are aged 60 years and older, the risk-benefit ratio may be less favorable because of the increased absolute risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, venous thromboembolism, and dementia. However, strategies such as lower doses and transdermal administration may reduce this risk, according to the statement.
The authors continue to recommend that longer durations of hormone therapy be for documented indications, such as VMS relief, and that patients on longer duration of therapy be reassessed periodically as part of a shared decision-making process. Women with persistent VMS or quality of life issues, or those at risk for osteoporosis, may continue hormone therapy beyond age 60 or 65 years after appropriate evaluation and risk-benefit counseling.
Women with ongoing GSM without indications for systemic therapy whose GSM persists after over-the-counter therapies may try low-dose vaginal estrogen or other nonestrogen therapies regardless of age and for an extended duration if needed, according to the statement.
Challenges, Research Gaps, and Goals
“Barriers to the use of hormone therapy include lack of access to high quality care,” Faubion said in an interview. The NAMS website, menopause.org, features an option to search for a NAMS-certified provider by ZIP code, she noted.
“Coverage of hormone therapy is highly variable and depends on the insurance company, but most women have access to one form or another with insurance coverage,” she said. “We need to continue to advocate for adequate coverage of menopause symptom treatments, including hormone therapy, so that women’s symptoms – which can significantly affect quality of life – are adequately managed.
“Additional research is needed on the thrombotic risk (venous thromboembolism, pulmonary embolism, and stroke) of oral versus transdermal therapies (including different formulations, doses, and durations of therapy),” Faubion told this news organization. “More clinical trial data are needed to confirm or refute the potential beneficial effects of hormone therapy on coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality when initiated in perimenopause or early postmenopause,” she said.
Other areas for research include “the breast effects of different estrogen preparations, including the role for selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) and tissue selective estrogen complex therapies, optimal progestogen or SERM regimens to prevent endometrial hyperplasia, the relationship between vasomotor symptoms and the risk for heart disease and cognitive changes, and the risks of premature ovarian insufficiency,” Faubion emphasized.
Looking ahead, “Studies are needed on the effects of longer use of low-dose vaginal estrogen therapy after breast or endometrial cancer, extended use of hormone therapy in women who are early initiators, improved tools to personalize or individualize benefits and risks of hormone therapy, and the role of aging and genetics,” said Faubion. Other areas for further research include “the long-term benefits and risks on women’s health of lifestyle modification or complementary or nonhormone therapies, if chosen in addition to or over hormone therapy for vasomotor symptoms, bone health, and cardiovascular disease risk reduction,” she added.
The complete statement was published in Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society.
The position statement received no outside funding. The authors had no financial conflicts to disclose.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.