Estrogen Therapy for Geriatric Osteoporosis: Just One Ball in a Complex Juggling Act



The use of estrogens is the single therapy that has been found consistently to prevent bone loss and fractures in postmenopausal women. Traditional osteoporotic risk factors should be used to select women for bone densitometry. The numeric result provided by densitometry, combined with age-based comparisons, is extremely useful in convincing reluctant women to be treated. The few studies that have been done in geriatric women show that estrogen therapy continues to be effective in reducing bone loss, but the absolute benefit is less than in perimenopausal women. The effects of estrogen therapy extend beyond osteoporosis. A consensus of epidemiologic reports has shown that women who comply with postmenopausal estrogen therapy have a 30% to 50% reduction in the risk of coronary artery disease. Given the frequency of these two conditions, widespread use of estrogens as a national health care policy would be appropriate if it were not for the evidence that estrogens may increase the risk of breast cancer and endometrial cancer. Given these lingering cancer fears, recent calls for a randomized national women's health study of postmenopausal estrogen therapy should be heeded.

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