Assaf is principal investigator for the local branch of the Women's Health Initiative, which recently found that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can do post-menopausal women more harm than good.
BAM What was the motivation for the study?
Assaf We wanted to see whether hormones can prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death in women.
BAM What did you find?
Assaf In women taking estrogen and progestin together, we found a significant increase in breast cancer and an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots.
BAM What did you do next?
Assaf We asked women in the study to stop taking the hormones, but to stay in the study so we could follow them closely. For any one woman it's a small risk, but almost 7 million women take these medications every day.
BAM How did the participants react?
Assaf It was bittersweet. They said they're doing this for their daughters and granddaughters, not themselves.
BAM What do you recommend now?
Assaf If it was my mom on Prempro [the leading HRT medication], I think I would tell her to get off of it.
BAM Are there any women for whom hormones are the right treatment?
Assaf We don't have an answer yet for women with no uterus, who are taking just estrogen. Also, it might be okay for short-term symptoms like hot flashes or night sweats. For [treating] osteoporosis and high cholesterol, there are many other drugs a woman could take. But there's not much out there for the symptoms of menopause.