By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS)— Fifteen years ago, scientists said hormone replacement therapy was risky. Now the research is showing it does not increase premature deaths.

Hormones were once considered a fountain of youth for menopausal women, but millions stopped taking them after the 2002 landmark study revealed hormone therapy could increase the risk of breast cancer, strokes and heart disease.

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But now, follow-up research says women who took either estrogen or a combined estrogen-progestin therapy showed no increase in their risk of death from all causes, including cancer and heart disease.

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“They don’t necessarily have to take hormones if they’re not hormonally deficient, but if they are, they can take them safely and effectively,” said Dr. Holly Thacker, with the Cleveland Clinic.

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Hormone replacement therapy is used to offset the symptoms of menopause that include hot flashes, mood changes, sleep problems and aging skin.

The 18-year follow-up research of 27,000 women who were part of the original study, found that they were no more likely to die of any cause than women who took placebo pills.

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“All women should be assessed at menopause for symptoms; bone health, sexual health and their overall medical condition and then be individualized and we have both hormonal and non-hormonal options for women,” said Thacker.

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The study, published in the Journal JAMA, is the first to examine long-term death rates from all causes among women who received hormone therapies.

Stephanie Stahl