October 23, 1995
Millions of women take estrogen replacement to boost levels of this hormone after menopause, when their bodies stop making it. The benefits of such hormone replacement are staggering: less heart disease, less osteoporosis, less hot flashes, and just basically less of many things that make postmenopausal women...less healthy. Despite this, millions more women have chosen not to take estrogen replacement. The primary reason: an increased risk of breast and uterine cancer, which understandibly scares many away. In fact only one in five women who could benefit from the therapy are using it. But finally, this week reseachers are announcing a new pill that could change all that.
They're called "anti-estrogens." The name comes from the fact that they have long been used to counter the bad effects of estrogen, namely breast cancer. The great new realization, however, is that in some parts of the body, anti-estrogens aren't anti- at all. In fact, they mimic estrogen, giving you estrogen's protection against heart disease and osteoporosis, without putting you at risk for breast cancer.
As with everything there have to be a couple of catches, and there are. For one thing, doctors are still discovering new benefits of estrogen-replacement and it's not clear if the anti-estrogens will be as effective and versatile as the real thing. So they will probably only be used in women who can't take estrogen, say because of a strong family history of breast cancer. Secondly, they won't be on the market for a few years.
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