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Doctors to Explain Hormone Therapy

The Oxnard symposium is designed to clear up confusion generated by a study outlining risks to menopausal women who take estrogen.

November 16, 2002|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Many women are frightened by conflicting reports about the safety of hormone therapy -- so much so that some are simply throwing away their pills.

Doctors across Ventura County say they see it every day.

"I can't tell you how many messages have come across my desk: 'I stopped taking my estrogen -- just wanted you to know,' " said Ventura cardiologist Thomas Kong.

To address the confusion, Community Memorial Hospital will hold a women's health symposium at 1 p.m. today at the Tower Club in Oxnard.

About 200 women are expected to attend. In fact, so many women have registered that other workshops will likely be organized, said Dr. Ronna Jurow, the panel's moderator.

"There's a lot of interest, because everyone is so confused," said Jurow, a Ventura gynecologist who teaches a class in women's health at USC.

Three physicians on the panel will explain that hormone replacement therapy can be a safe and effective way to treat menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, as long as doctors follow some common-sense guidelines.

The doctors are hoping to calm fears that hormone therapy is too risky. That appears to be the overriding message women have received from a much-publicized study that found a slightly increased risk of heart disease, stroke and breast cancer in women who used a combination of estrogen and progesterone.

Findings in the Women's Health Initiative Study, released in July, have been fiercely debated. Some experts say it is conclusive evidence that hormone therapy should be prescribed only with extreme caution while others argue that the risks have been overblown.

In October, the North American Menopause Society recommended that hormone therapy be limited to the shortest duration possible to relieve menopausal symptoms but no longer be recommended for prevention of heart disease.

But the society's advisory committee could not reach consensus on how long hormones should be prescribed for such problems as night sweats, mood swings and vaginal atrophy.

About 38% of post-menopausal women nationally were on hormone replacement therapy at the time the study's findings were released. That number is expected to multiply in coming years as female baby boomers reach the end of their fertility.

Those women need clear guidance, medical experts say.

"The bottom line is: This is an individual choice," Jurow said. "There are lower dosages, there are patches and there are creams. I don't care what kind of estrogen a woman takes as long as it's estrogen."

Dr. Martha Gonzalez, a Ventura endocrinologist, said she, too, believes hormone therapy has real benefits for post-menopausal women. By consulting closely with their doctor, most women can safely take hormones, she said. "I tell my patients I'm going to take estrogen until I die," said Gonzalez, 49. "I want my bones, I want my heart and I want my brain. I want to be able to have sex. I don't want to have depression or saggy skin. If I get breast cancer, I will get newer and bigger breasts."

For information on future workshops, call 652-5093.

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