During a woman’s reproductive years, the ovaries produce hormones known as estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen regulates monthly menstrual cycle and secondary sexual characteristics such as breast function and development. It peaks at different times in the menstrual cycle to ensure her body is prepared for fertilisation and reproduction.
Progesterone also peaks to put in order the woman’s uterus for potential pregnancy and her breasts for lactation. However as a woman approaches menopause– usually around the age of 50- her body produces less estrogen and progesterone. Experts have predicted that 40 million women will experience menopause in the next 20 years.
The decrease in estrogen in menopause can create uncomfortable symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep disturbance and many more uncomfortable effects. The dryness of tissue around the vagina and urethra can be uncomfortable or even painful during sexual intercourse and urination.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormone replacement therapy can help relieve these symptoms and other menopausal problems. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) uses synthetic estrogen and progesterone, known as progestin which are designed to replace a womans declining hormones.
Previous research has indicated that HRT can also prevent osteoporosis, heart disease, depression, short term memory loss and other diseases in post-menopausal women. But more recent research has shown that HRT might not provide such benefits and may create other risks including an increased risk of ovarian cancer with prolonged use, and cancer of the uterine lining for those women who do not take progestin with oestrogen.
Although HRT can be effective at relieving menopausal symptoms and possibly provide a protection again certain conditions such as osteoporosis, there is also evidence to suggest there is a link between HRT and the increased risk of breast cancer. During July 2002, a large study on HRT was halted by the National Institute of Health.
It was found that the combined oestrogen and progestin regimen of the therapy was the cause of eight cases of invasive breast cancer for every 10,000 women taking HRT. This was a 26% increase in breast cancer risk compared to those women who were not taking HRT.
Experts believe that although these numbers appear to be alarming, short term use or HRT can be safe among those women who are not at high risk of developing breast cancer or other diseases. This indicates the importance of patients of physicians making the decision about HRT based on their individual medical situation and family history.
As mentioned above, estrogen and progestin are the two hormone supplements that are the most used for HRT. If one was to take oestrogen without progestin to balance the hormonal cycle, you could cause over stimulation of the endometrium tissue which is more commonly known as the lining of the uterus. This has found to lead to uncontrolled tissue growth known as hyperplasia leading to endometrial cancer.
Progestin can counteract this risk. Therefore those women who still have their uteruses are more commonly prescribed oestrogen and progestin together. Progestin can be prescribed by itself to prevent hot flashes and other menopausal problems.