Have you heard of personalized medicine? This burgeoning movement in healthcare focuses on the individual and not the masses and relies on our unique biological and genetic profiles to guide therapy choice.
With all the hullabaloo over hormone replacement therapy (HRT), mixed data about risks and benefits and a lack of a clear path for women who choose to go this route, personalized medicine might hold the answer. In fact, in an online review in Metabolism, authors are exploring the very idea that some women may be more ideally suited than others for hormone therapy. Personalized medicine may also make it possible to tailor dosing, formulation and even route of delivery to make the benefit-risk ratio, which we know has been swinging toward the negative, more balanced and favourable.
Although a recent report has come out disputing the role of hormone therapy in increasing risk for heart issues, data from the Women’s Health Study showed that compared to placebo, women who took combination hormones were 24% more likely to develop heart disease (i.e. heart attack or coronary death), up to 40% liklier to have a stroke and twice as likely to develop a blood clot in the lungs. Women who took estrogen only had almost a 40% increased risk for stroke and a trend towards an increased risk for developing a clot in the arteries leading to the lungs. Yet, these results might not be applicable to all as research suggests that factors such as age, time since the onset of menopause, LDL and other cholesterol levels and the presence or absence of metabolic disease may be able to help identify women who are better versus worse candidates for HRT (and likely or less likely to have elevated risk). Moreover, emerging evidence suggests that women who already have an elevated risk for stroke should either avoid systemic hormone therapy or choose a safer delivery method, e.g., a transdermal (through the skin).
A number of experts believe that using lower doses of hormones, bioidentical compounds, and going the transdermal route may very well change the benefit/risk ratio as well, primarily due to reduce blood levels of circulating hormones or as with transdermals, the fact that the drug doesn’t pass through the liver. In some cases, however, the data are scant and randomized clinical trial evidence, also referred to in medical circles as evidenced-based medicine, may be lacking. Still, I do believe that personalized medicine may hold the key for millions of women who can’t find relief through alternative strategies or simply desire more immediate relief. Perhaps some of these very factors that researchers are exploring will remove some of the roadblocks. Meanwhile, pay attention to the variety of factors that may the golden ticket — factors like age, time since menopause, heart health, existing breast cancer risk, biomarkers in the blood and genetic predisposition. Who knows? HRT personalized might be just around the corner.