RCOG and the hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

* RCOG UPDATE (11 June 2013): The British Menopause Society (BMS) and Women’s Health Concern recently published a literature review of the evidence on the use and effects of HRT.

In summary, their key recommendations are:

  • The decision whether to use HRT should be made by each woman having been given sufficient information by her healthcare professional, including information about complementary therapies and lifestyle and dietary changes.
  • HRT dosage, regimen and duration should be individualised, with an annual evaluation of the pros and cons.
  • Arbitrary limits should not be placed on the duration of usage of HRT; if symptoms persist, the benefits of hormone therapy usually outweigh the risks.
  • HRT prescribed before the age of 60 has a favourable benefit/risk profile.
  • It is imperative that women with Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) are encouraged to use HRT at least until the average age of the menopause.
  • If HRT is to be used in women over 60 years of age, lower doses should be started, preferably with a transdermal route of administration.
  • Research and development of new compounds should continue to maximise benefits and minimise side effects and risks.

Panay N, Hamoda H, Arya R and Michael Savvas, on behalf of The British Menopause Society and Women's Health Concern, ‘The 2013 British Menopause Society & Women’s Health Concern recommendations on hormone replacement therapy’,  Menopause Int 1754045313489645,first published on May 23, 2013 doi:10.1177/1754045313489645

For patient information about the use of HRT to treat symptoms of menopause, please visit Women's Health Concern. For healthcare professionals, please visit the British Menopause Society

Last reviewed: June 2013

The following information and advice is archived and no longer current:

Recent media reports have presented conflicting stories about the safety of HRT, stemming from the varied interpretations of the different studies which have appeared in recent years.

A summary of the latest studies is below:

HRT and cardiovascular disease

The latest Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) has noted that younger women (50 -59) taking HRT over a period of 10 years have shown no increased risk of developing CVD (Rossouw et al, JAMA 2007; 297: 1465-77). This is in contrast to evidence from the previous WHI study which stated an opposite finding, linking the risk of developing CVD to commencing HRT given in the form of a combination of estrogens with medroxyprogesterone acetate.

The women's international study of long duration estrogen and progestin after menopause (WISDOM) found that women starting or restarting combined HRT have increased cardiovascular and thromboembolic risk when treatment begins many years after the menopause (Vickers et al, BMJ, July 2007, doi:10.1136/bmj.39266.425069.AD). The study looked at a small group of 5,692 women from UK, Australia and New Zealand and found a significant increase in the number of "major cardiovascular events", such as angina, heart attack or sudden heart death, and potentially dangerous blood clots in the group given HRT, compared with those given placebo pills. The study also found a decreased risk of osteoporotic fracture and no difference in the risk of stroke or cancers. The study recommends further research to gauge the long-term risks and benefits of starting HRT near the menopause. It must be noted that this study was stopped upon the publication of the first WHI study which revealed a link between CVD and heart disease.

HRT and breast cancer

Studies have shown an association between HRT made up of a combination of estrogens and progestins with breast cancer. These observations however, are related to certain types of HRT and certain types of breast cancer for women of a particular age group. The recorded risks are statistically small and appear to be linked with the duration of therapy (Ravdin et al, NEJM 2007; 356: 1670-4). A recent study found that postmenopausal women who take combined estrogen plus progestin HRT for at least 5 years are increasing their risk of breast cancer. Researchers also found that women can quickly reduce their risk of breast cancer by stopping HRT (Chlebowski et al., NEJM 2009; 360(6): 573-587). In considering these findings, women should be aware that only a small percentage of combined estrogen plus progestin users continue use for more than five years (Brett & Reuben, Obstet Gynecol 2003; 102:1240-9). The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada has noted that risk factors for breast cancer, such as hormones, should be evaluated in light of equally important risk factors related to lifestyle (Reid et al, JOGC 2009; 31(1): S5-S8). Research suggests that 34% of breast cancers could be avoided by making lifestyle changes at the time of menopause (Sprague et al, Am J Epidemiol 2008; 168(4): 404-11).

HRT and ovarian cancer

The recent Million Women Study has revealed an increased incidence of developing ovarian cancer in women on HRT, compared to women who have never used HRT (Million Women Study Collaborators, Lancet 2007; 369:1703-10). However, these risks are statistically small. Researchers report that the risk of developing ovarian cancer returns to pre-use levels once users stop using HRT.


The current advice in the UK is for women using HRT, in consultation with their gynaecologist, to use the lowest dose which gives symptom control, for the shortest period of time. Given the findings from new research, the risks associated with the use of HRT are low and duration of use may, if necessary, be extended, as the use of HRT for many women provides welcome relief from distressing postmenopausal symptoms (Grady & Barrett-Connor, BMJ 2007; 334:860-1).

Based on the current evidence, therefore, starting HRT at the early onset of the menopause, and carrying on for a few years apparently carries little risk in healthy women. Taking medication also confers some benefit to bone strength (Farquhar C et al, Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Apr 15;(2):CD004143) and a small reduction in the risk of colonic cancer (Johnson JR et al, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2009;18(1):196-203). All women commencing HRT should be advised of type, dose, mode of delivery and duration, and doctors should tailor treatment to individual patients.

Next steps

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is fully aware of the controversy over HRT and in 2006, to enable better understanding for professionals and patients, proposed to NICE that it should undertake an unbiased evidence-based guideline review on the management of the menopause.

It is hoped that this proposal will be accepted and that the guideline production will be overseen by a chairperson with open-minded views on the benefits and risks of HRT.


The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has updated its safety advice on HRT in September 2007. To view this document and the advice, please visit www.mhra.gov.uk/mhra/drugsafetyupdate.

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada has challenged the popular notion that hormone therapy does more harm than good and has issued new clinical guidelines and updated research information about menopause and its management. The update suggests that many women experiencing troublesome symptoms have been scared away from HRT due to misunderstandings about risks. The authors stress that while menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life, there is no “one size fits all approach” when it comes to menopause symptoms and treatments. To view these documents, please visit http://www.sogc.org/media/advisories-20090122_e.asp.


 Updated on 26 May 2009



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