Blood Hormones and Venous Thromboembolic Events: Lack of Association or Lack of Standardization?
19 September 2018
25 September 2018
12 October 2018 (online)
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is widely used to control menopausal-related vasomotor symptoms and genitourinary syndrome, and to prevent the onset of osteoporosis and bone fractures. The benefits of HRT are most likely when it is started early in women aged < 60 years or who are within 10 years of menopause onset.
This risk seems to be attributable to an effect of sex hormones on coagulation and fibrinolysis systems, by increasing blood coagulation factors and reducing inhibitors such as anti-thrombin and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 ([Fig. 1]). 
Recent evidence suggested that oral versus non-oral HRT (i.e. transdermal) is associated with an increased risk of VTE with an odds ratio (OR) of 1.66 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.39–1.98). This increased risk of VTE was observed both in users of oral oestrogen only (OR, 1.43, 95% CI, 1.34–1.53) and of combined oral oestrogen–progestin HRT (OR, 2.35, 95% CI, 1.9–2.9). Interestingly, non-oral HRT was not associated with VTE, regardless of the type of hormone considered. Regarding the type of HRT, it is known that the addition of progestin to oestrogen (opposed oestrogen) reduces the risk of ovarian cancer, and is currently the gold standard HRT for women with a uterus. Results from the Women's Health Initiative oestrogen plus progestin clinical trial showed that oestrogen plus progestin oral administration was associated with a doubled risk of VTE. In particular, the incidence of venous thrombosis was 3.5 and 1.7 per 1,000 person-years in women taking oestrogen plus progestin or placebo, respectively (hazard ratio [HR], 2.06, 95% CI, 1.57–2.70). This risk increased by aging (HR, 7.46, 95% CI, 4.32–14.38 for age 70–79 years), and with body weight (HR, 5.61, 95% CI, 3.12–10.11 for obesity). Of note, the presence of factor V Leiden was the only factor that increased the hormone-associated risk of thrombosis by 6.69-fold (95% CI, 3.09–14.49), while other mutations (pro-thrombin 20210A, methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase C677T, factor XIII Val34Leu, PAI-1 4G/5G and factor V HR2) did not confer such risk.
In this issue of the journal, Roetker et al performed an analysis from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study to investigate whether circulating blood levels of endogenous hormones, such as dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS), testosterone and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), were associated with the incidence of VTE in men and post-menopausal women receiving HRT or no HRT. The study included 3,051 women not on HRT, 1,414 women on oral HRT and 3,925 men. During a follow-up of 17.6 years, 184 (6.0%), 62 (4.4%) and 206 (5.2%) VTE events were recorded in the three groups, respectively.
The authors found no association between endogenous levels of DHEAS, testosterone and SHBG with VTE incidence in men and women not using HRT, suggesting a lack of interference between blood levels of endogenous hormones and VTE risk. In addition, in women on HRT, a possible association was found for very low levels of DHEAS and a trend for very high concentrations of SHBG. However, there are some issues to be considered when analysing the results of this report. Thus, it should be taken into consideration that the population included in the ARIC Study seems to be at ‘low risk’ for VTE, as patients with previous VTE and cancer were excluded. Another issue is that plasma hormones were measured only at baseline with a direct immunoassay, which is less specific and sensitive than liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry assay and has high coefficients of variations, as correctly acknowledged by the authors. Finally, no information regarding the type of HRT and time of exposure during the follow-up period is available, which is crucial to evaluate the impact of HRT on blood hormones levels and on VTE incidence.
Another interesting issue concerns how many VTE events were potentially related to new-onset cancer in the ARIC Study. This is a critical issue as HRT has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer. In a nationwide breast cancer screening program, the Breast Cancer Detection Demonstration Project, which included 46,355 post-menopausal women, 2,082 cases of breast cancer were identified during follow-up. Relative risk of breast cancer was 1.2 (95% CI, 1.0–1.4) with oestrogen-only HRT and 1.4 (95% CI, 1.1–1.8) with oestrogen–progestin, and this risk increased by 0.08 (95% CI, 0.02–0.16) for each year of oestrogen–progestin use. The authors concluded that the oestrogen–progestin regimen increased breast cancer risk beyond that associated with oestrogen alone.
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