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Hormone Replacement Therapy

April 2005

A physiologic role for testosterone in limiting estrogenic stimulation of the breast.

OBJECTIVE: The normal ovary produces abundant testosterone in addition to estradiol (E(2)) and progesterone, but usually only the latter two hormones are “replaced” in the treatment of ovarian failure and menopause. Some clinical and genetic evidence suggests, however, that endogenous androgens normally inhibit estrogen-induced mammary epithelial proliferation (MEP) and thereby may protect against breast cancer. DESIGN: To investigate the role of endogenous androgen in regulating mammary epithelial proliferation, normal-cycling rhesus monkeys were treated with flutamide, an androgen receptor antagonist. To evaluate the effect of physiological testosterone (T) supplementation of estrogen replacement therapy, ovariectomized monkeys were treated with E(2), E(2) plus progesterone, E(2) plus T, or vehicle. RESULTS: We show that androgen receptor blockade in normal female monkeys results in a more than twofold increase in MEP, indicating that endogenous androgens normally inhibit MEP. Moreover, we show that addition of a small, physiological dose of T to standard estrogen therapy almost completely attenuates estrogen-induced increases in MEP in the ovariectomized monkey, suggesting that the increased breast cancer risk associated with estrogen treatment could be reduced by T supplementation. Testosterone reduces mammary epithelial estrogen receptor (ER) alpha and increases ERbeta expression, resulting in a marked reversal of the ERalpha/beta ratio found in the estrogen-treated monkey. Moreover, T treatment is associated with a significant reduction in mammary epithelial MYC expression, suggesting that T’s antiestrogenic effects at the mammary gland involve alterations in ER signaling to MYC. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that treatment with a balanced formulation including all ovarian hormones may prevent or reduce estrogenic cancer risk in the treatment of girls and women with ovarian failure.

Menopause. 2003 Jul-Aug;10(4):292-8

Testosterone influences libido and well being in women.

There is increasing awareness of the significant and varied actions of endogenous androgens in women, and acknowledgement that women might experience symptoms secondary to androgen deficiency. There is also substantial evidence that prudent testosterone replacement is effective in relieving both the physical and psychological symptoms of androgen insufficiency in clinically affected women. However, our understanding of the actions of testosterone in women is incomplete, with no consensus as to what constitutes either biochemical or clinical testosterone deficiency. The focus of the limited research into testosterone replacement has been on sexuality, primarily sexual desire. However, the influence of testosterone on mood and well being also requires further exploration.

Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Jan-Feb;12(1):33-7

Androgens and female sexuality.

An accumulating body of data indicates that many women experience a cluster of symptoms that are responsive to testosterone treatment and may be due to androgen deficiency. Character-istically, affected women complain of low libido, persistent fatigue, and diminished well-being and are found to have low circulating bioavailable testosterone. Whether the apparent therapeutic effects of testosterone are mediated via the androgen receptor or as a consequence of metabolism to estrogen is not known. Despite the lack of understanding of the mechanism(s) by which testosterone may enhance libido, the prescription of testosterone to women in a variety of formulations is becoming increasingly popular. This article provides an overview of the rationale for testosterone therapy in women, offers a broad definition of androgen deficiency in women based on the clinical experience of the author, and outlines the currently available options and potential risks of testosterone replacement in women.

J Gend Specif Med. 2000 Jan-Feb;3(1):36-40

Transdermal testosterone treatment in women with impaired sexual function after oophorectomy.

BACKGROUND: The ovaries provide approximately half the circulating testosterone in premenopausal women. After bilateral oophorectomy, many women report impaired sexual functioning despite estrogen replacement. We evaluated the effects of transdermal testosterone in women who had impaired sexual function after surgically induced meno-pause. METHODS: Seventy-five women, 31 to 56 years old, who had undergone oophorectomy and hysterectomy received conjugated equine estrogens (at least 0.625 mg per day orally) and, in random order, placebo, 150 microg of testosterone, and 300 microg of testosterone per day transdermally for 12 weeks each. Outcome measures included scores on the Brief Index of Sexual Functioning for Women, the Psychological General Well-Being Index, and a sexual-function diary completed over the telephone. RESULTS: The mean (+/-SD) serum free testosterone concentration increased from 1.2+/-0.8 pg per milliliter (4.2+/-2.8 pmol per liter) during placebo treatment to 3.9+/-2.4 pg per milliliter (13.5+/-8.3 pmol per liter) and 5.9+/-4.8 pg per milliliter (20.5+/-16.6 pmol per liter) during treatment with 150 and 300 microg of testosterone per day, respectively (normal range, 1.3 to 6.8 pg per milliliter [4.5 to 23.6 pmol per liter]). Despite an appreciable placebo response, the higher testosterone dose resulted in further increases in scores for frequency of sexual activity and pleasure-orgasm in the Brief index of Sexual Functioning for Women (P=0.03 for both comparisons with placebo). At the higher dose the percentages of women who had sexual fantasies, masturbated, or engaged in sexual intercourse at least once a week increased two to three times from base line. The positive-well-being, depressed-mood, and composite scores of the Psychological General Well-Being Index also improved at the higher dose (P=0.04, P=0.03, and P=0.04, respectively, for the comparison with placebo), but the scores on the telephone-based diary did not increase significantly. CONCLUSIONS: In women who have undergone oophorectomy and hysterectomy, transdermal testosterone improves sexual function and psychological well-being.

N Engl J Med. 2000 Sep 7;343(10):682-8

Sex hormone adjuvant therapy in rheumatoid arthritis.

RA is an autoimmune rheumatic disorder resulting from the combination of several predisposing factors, including the relation between epitopes of possible triggering agents and histocompatibility epitopes, the status of the stress response system, and the sex hormone status. Estrogens are implicated as enhancers of humoral immunity, and androgens and progesterone are natural immune suppressors. Sex hormone concentrations have been evaluated in RA patients before glucocorticoid therapy and have frequently been found to be altered, especially in premenopausal women and male patients. In particular, low levels of gonadal and adrenal androgens (testosterone and DHT, DHEA and DHEAS) and a reduced androgen:estrogen ratio have been detected in body fluids (i.e., blood, synovial fluid, smears, saliva) of male and female RA patients. These observations support a possible pathogenic role for the decreased levels of the immune-suppressive androgens. Exposure to environmental estrogens (estrogenic xenobiotics), genetic polymorphisms of genes coding for hormone metabolic enzymes or receptors, and gonadal disturbances related to stress system activation (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis) and physiologic hormonal perturbations such as during aging, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, the postpartum period, and menopause may interfere with the androgen:estrogen ratio. Sex hormones might exert their immune-modulating effects, at least in RA synovitis, because synovial macrophages, monocytes, and lymphocytes possess functional androgen and estrogen receptors and may metabolize gonadal hormones. The molecular basis for sex hormone adjuvant therapy in RA is thus experimentally substantiated. By considering the well-demonstrated immune-suppressive activities exerted by androgens, male hormones and their derivatives seem to be the most promising therapeutic approach. Recent studies have shown positive effects of androgen replacement therapy at least in male RA patients, particularly as adjuvant treatment. Interestingly, the increase in serum androgen metabolism induced by RA treatment with CSA should be regarded as a possible marker of androgen-mediated immune-suppressive activities exerted by CSA, at least in RA and at the level of sensitive target cells and tissues (i.e., synovial macrophages). The absence of altered serum levels of estrogens in RA patients and the reported immune-enhancing properties exerted by female hormones have represented a poor stimulus to test estrogen replacement therapy in RA. The different results obtained with OC use seem to depend on dose-related effects and the different type of response to estrogens in relation to the cytokine balance between Th1 cells (cellular immunity, i.e., RA) and Th2 cells (humoral immunity, i.e., SLE). The androgen replacement obtained directly (i.e., testosterone, DHT, DHEAS) or indirectly (i.e., antiestrogens) may represent a valuable concomitant or adjuvant treatment to be associated with other disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (i.e., MTX, CSA) in the management of RA.

Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2000 Nov;26(4):881-95

Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: principal results From the Women’s Health Initiative randomized controlled trial.

CONTEXT: Despite decades of accumulated observational evidence, the balance of risks and benefits for hormone use in healthy postmenopausal women remains uncertain. OBJECTIVE: To assess the major health benefits and risks of the most commonly used combined hormone preparation in the United States. DESIGN: Estrogen plus progestin component of the Women’s Health Initiative, a randomized controlled primary prevention trial (planned duration, 8.5 years) in which 16,608 postmenopausal women aged 50-79 years with an intact uterus at baseline were recruited by 40 US clinical centers in 1993-1998. INTERVENTIONS: Participants received conjugated equine estrogens, 0.625 mg/d, plus medroxyprogesterone acetate, 2.5 mg/d, in 1 tablet (n = 8506) or placebo (n = 8102). MAIN OUTCOMES MEASURES: The primary outcome was coronary heart disease (CHD) (nonfatal myocardial infarction and CHD death), with invasive breast cancer as the primary adverse outcome. A global index summarizing the balance of risks and benefits included the 2 primary outcomes plus stroke, pulmonary embolism (PE), endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, hip fracture, and death due to other causes. RESULTS: On May 31, 2002, after a mean of 5.2 years of follow-up, the data and safety monitoring board recommended stopping the trial of estrogen plus progestin vs placebo because the test statistic for invasive breast cancer exceeded the stopping boundary for this adverse effect and the global index statistic supported risks exceeding benefits. This report includes data on the major clinical outcomes through April 30, 2002. Estimated hazard ratios (HRs) (nominal 95% confidence intervals [CIs]) were as follows: CHD, 1.29 (1.02-1.63) with 286 cases; breast cancer, 1.26 (1.00-1.59) with 290 cases; stroke, 1.41 (1.07-1.85) with 212 cases; PE, 2.13 (1.39-3.25) with 101 cases; colorectal cancer, 0.63 (0.43-0.92) with 112 cases; endometrial cancer, 0.83 (0.47-1.47) with 47 cases; hip fracture, 0.66 (0.45-0.98) with 106 cases; and death due to other causes, 0.92 (0.74-1.14) with 331 cases. Corresponding HRs (nominal 95% CIs) for composite outcomes were 1.22 (1.09-1.36) for total cardiovascular disease (arterial and venous disease), 1.03 (0.90-1.17) for total cancer, 0.76 (0.69-0.85) for combined fractures, 0.98 (0.82-1.18) for total mortality, and 1.15 (1.03-1.28) for the global index. Absolute excess risks per 10 000 person-years attributable to estrogen plus progestin were 7 more CHD events, 8 more strokes, 8 more PEs, and 8 more invasive breast cancers, while absolute risk reductions per 10 000 person-years were 6 fewer colorectal cancers and 5 fewer hip fractures. The absolute excess risk of events included in the global index was 19 per 10 000 person-years. CONCLUSIONS: Overall health risks exceeded benefits from use of combined estrogen plus progestin for an average 5.2-year follow-up among healthy postmenopausal US women. All-cause mortality was not affected during the trial. The risk-benefit profile found in this trial is not consistent with the requirements for a viable intervention for primary prevention of chronic diseases, and the results indicate that this regimen should not be initiated or continued for primary prevention of CHD.

JAMA. 2002 Jul 17;288(3):321-3