Vaginal Estrogen Not Linked to Cancer or Heart Disease

Oct 4, 2017 at 3:00 p.m. ET
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The use of vaginally applied estrogen to ease menopause symptoms likely doesn’t increase a woman’s risk of heart disease or certain cancers, a recent study found.

Previous studies and trials have indicated that women who take oral estrogen therapy may have a higher risk of breast cancer, blood clots and strokes. Specifically, the federally funded Women’s Health Initiative released a study in 2002 that linked estrogen pills with such risks, leaving many women reluctant to use hormone-replacement therapy to treat menopause symptoms.

More: What’s Hormone-Replacement Therapy, & Why Should Women Know About It?

The new research analyzed longer-term data from more than 45,000 women in the WHI group who didn’t use hormone-replacement therapy pills. Among postmenopausal women with an intact uterus who used vaginal estrogen, researchers found there was no significant difference in the risk of blood clots, cancer or stroke in comparison to nonusers. In fact, women who used vaginal estrogen had a 48 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 60 percent lower risk of hip fractures.

“The blood levels of estrogen that result from vaginal estrogen use are lower than those resulting from oral estrogen use, so we expected that associations with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer might not be as pronounced with vaginal estrogen as those seen in studies of oral estrogen use,” said lead author Dr. Carolyn Crandall of UCLA to RealHealth. “The results are reassuring that vaginal estrogen use is not associated with increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.”

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In the years leading up to menopause, the ovaries begin to curb production of estrogen and progesterone, which can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms — insomnia, mood swings, hot flashes, irregular periods and vaginal dryness. The North American Menopause Society, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Endocrine Society have come forward and said on the North American Menopause Society’s website that the healthiest way to relieve the majority of these symptoms is through the use of hormone therapy.

Researchers hope that the findings of this study will reassure women that hormone therapy is an acceptable and safe option to treat menopausal symptoms.

More: The Unexpected — & Unwanted — Side Effect of Hormone Therapy

“A study like this allows women to safely use a form of estrogen that will help their (vaginal) symptoms,” said Dr. Michael Thomas of the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center to Reuters. “They can have intercourse without pain and feel safe they are not risking their life.”

By Shaye DiPasquale