Hormone replacement therapy is really confusing because experts keep going back and forth about whether or not it eases the symptoms of menopausal women or threatens their health. A new study finds that both are true, which clears nothing up.

A new report—published in The Journal of the American Medical Association—reaffirms a 2002 finding that there are more risks than benefits when taking hormones in menopause. However, it also found that there are unexpected benefits. Women who took estrogen alone had a reduced risk of breast cancer and heart problems—but estrogen can only be given alone to women who have had their uterus removed, otherwise it causes an increased risk of uterine cancer. That means most women are given a mix of estrogen and progesterone.

For combined hormones, for every 10,000 women taking the drugs, the new analysis found that there were six additional instances of heart problems, nine more strokes, nine more blood clots in the lungs and nine more cases of breast cancer. On the benefit side, there were six fewer cases of colorectal cancer, one fewer case of uterine cancer, six fewer hip fractures and one fewer death. Most of the effects wore off once the drugs were stopped, but the risk of breast cancer remained slightly elevated.

For both types of hormones, the risks are lower for women 50 to 59, so it is still advised that HRT is used for a short period of time to alleviate initial menopause symptoms.

Image via AN NGUYEN/Shutterstock

Study of Hormone Use in Menopause Reaffirms Complex Mix of Risks and Benefits [NYT]