'Hot Flash' film plays havoc in Naperville women's health program

by Anna Gaynor
May 11, 2011


Approximately 70 million women are in menopause in the U.S. The symptoms can range from depression to hot flashes to bone loss, while some women shrug off this transition and say they hardly notice it. Experts still cannot agree about the best way to treat “The Change.”

Thursday night, the Women’s Bloom Network, a support network for women aged 40 to 60, will be hosting a showing of “Hot Flash Havoc,” a documentary and a panel discussion with local and national experts. The 2010 documentary features 14 leading experts in the field as well as the stories of average women.

Heidi Houston, the Aspen, Colo. filmmaker who produced the movie, will be attending the event in Naperville. She has already attended about 24 showings, including one last February hosted by Northwestern University.

“What you really see is that across the country the women are starving for this information, and they’re confused,” Houston said. “When they watch the movie and listen to a panel, they’re so grateful to get real information instead of just headlines in the newspaper.”

The film looks at a 2002 study by the Women’s Health Initiative that found a link between hormone therapy and an increased risk of heart attacks and breast cancer. The researchers conducting the study tested more than 16,000 women, one group treated with a combination estrogen and the other with estrogen and progesterone. The researchers stopped the study because of a slight increase of breast cancer in the group being treated with both hormones. The increase in breast cancer in women taking estrogen and progesterone went from 3 out of 1,000 to less than 4, she said

Since then, experts have criticized the study and the way the data was interpreted.

According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors don't usually recommend long-term hormone therapy, but short-term use has been linked to some strong health benefits, such as preventing heart disease, colorectal cancer and osteoporosis.

Sharon Green, the executive director of the Institute for Women’s Health Research and a panelist on Thursday, also has issues with the study, noting that the participants were 10 years past the onset of menopause. She will speak on behalf of “the consumer” during the panel. From her own experience, Green believes women need to carefully weigh the cost and benefits of using hormones. She took into account her family’s history of osteoporosis and breast cancer and chose to go with a therapy that would help strengthen her bones.

The research in the field of menopause is changing rapidly. There is no consensus on how to treat it, which is why Green finds the panel useful. “It’s a discussion, and I think that’s the best part of it,” she said.

She recommends women examine their medical needs and speak with a doctor but to also be wary. “You have to hope that your doctor has the most current research available,” Green said.

Houston suggested that women change doctors to find someone who is an expert in the field.

“If women understand what’s happening, you can manage anything,” Houston said. “If you don’t understand, it’s pretty hard to manage what’s going on.”

“Hot Flash Havoc” will be shown at North Central College.

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