Some women going through menopause may safely be able to take estrogen and with less fear and some health benefits, says a new report based on information from the government's massive Women's Health Initiative study on hormone replacement therapy.
"For the first time, we now know that for women who've had a hysterectomy, estrogen may not only be safe, it may actually be quite beneficial for them," said Dr. Marie Savard, an ABC News medical contributor.
More than 33 percent of U.S. women older than 50 have had hysterectomies. The latest results, which were published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, are from 10,739 participants, in their 60s on average, who took estrogen-only pills as part of the Women's Health Initiative.
Researchers found that those who took estrogen experienced a 23 percent drop in breast cancer risk even after they'd stopped taking the pills. Women in their 50s had other benefits as well.
"I think this study shows that for young women, estrogen was not only safe, it was protective in terms of preventing heart attacks, strokes, blood clots and for all women, breast cancer," Savard said.
Estrogen Study Not Reassuring for All Women
For women who have now had their uterus removed and must take a combination pill of progesterone and estrogen, however, there was no benefit. Their risk for breast cancer increased. And for women in their 70s, the rate of breast cancer was lower -- though the risk of other chronic diseases rose.
"We now have much clearer information they [women] can use when making decisions about whether or not to take estrogen and it really appears very reassuring for women in their 50s," said Andrea LaCroix, the study's lead author and a researcher at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Dr. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the study was not a blanket endorsement of hormone therapy.
"What it does say is if [menopause] symptoms are intolerable and a woman does not have a uterus, she may not be harmed by estrogen alone if she takes it for a relatively short time," she said.
The Associated Press and ABC News' Lara Salahi contributed to this article.