May 26, 2017
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"NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The combination of conjugated estrogens with bazedoxifene (CE/BZA) significantly improves bone mineral density (BMD) and bone turnover, according to pooled results from the SMART-1 and SMART-5 trials.





Endogenous estrogens are largely responsible for the development and maintenance of the female reproductive system and secondary sexual characteristics. Although circulating estrogens exist in a dynamic equilibrium of metabolic interconversions, estradiol is the principal intracellular human estrogen and is substantially more potent than its metabolites, estrone and estriol, at the receptor level. The primary source of estrogen in normally cycling adult women is the ovarian follicle, which secretes 70 to 500 μg of estradiol daily, depending on the phase of the menstrual cycle. After menopause, most endogenous estrogen is produced by conversion of androstenedione, secreted by the adrenal cortex, to estrone by peripheral tissues. Thus, estrone and the sulfate conjugated form, estrone sulfate, are the most abundant circulating estrogens in postmenopausal women.

Estrogens act through binding to nuclear receptors in estrogen-responsive tissues. To date, two estrogen receptors have been identified. These vary in proportion from tissue to tissue.

Circulating estrogens modulate the pituitary secretion of the gonadotropins, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) through a negative feedback mechanism. Estrogens act to reduce the elevated levels of these hormones seen in postmenopausal women.

In a study using transdermally administered estradiol, 0.1 mg daily, plasma levels increased by 66 pg/mL, resulting in an average plasma level of 73 pg/mL. There were no significant increases in the concentration of renin substrate or other hepatic proteins (sex hormone-binding globulin, thyroxine-binding globulin, and corticosteroid-binding globulin).


The skin metabolizes estradiol only to a small extent. In contrast, orally administered estradiol is rapidly metabolized by the liver to estrone and its conjugates, giving rise to higher circulating levels of estrone than estradiol. Therefore, transdermal administration produces therapeutic plasma levels of estradiol with lower circulating levels of estrone and estrone conjugates and requires smaller total doses than does oral therapy.


Administration of Estraderm produces mean serum concentrations of estradiol comparable to those produced by daily oral administration of estradiol at about 20 times the daily transdermal dose. In single-application studies in 14 postmenopausal women using Estraderm (estradiol transdermal) systems that provided 0.05 and 0.1 mg of exogenous estradiol per day, these systems produced increased blood levels within 4 hours and maintained respective mean serum estradiol concentrations of 32 and 67 pg/mL above baseline over the application period. At the same time, increases in estrone serum concentration averaged only 9 and 27 pg/mL above baseline, respectively. Serum concentrations of estradiol and estrone returned to preapplication levels within 24 hours after removal of the system. The estimated daily urinary output of estradiol conjugates increased 5 to 10 times the baseline values and returned to near baseline within 2 days after removal of the system.

By comparison, estradiol (2 mg/day) administered orally to postmenopausal women resulted in increases in mean serum concentration of 59 pg/mL of estradiol and 302 pg/mL of estrone above baseline on the third consecutive day of dosing. Urinary output of estradiol conjugates after oral administration increased to about 100 times the baseline values and did not approach baseline until 7-8 days after the last dose.

In a 3-week multiple-application study of 14 postmenopausal women in which Estraderm (estradiol transdermal) 0.05 was applied twice weekly, the mean increments in steady-state serum concentration were 30 pg/mL for estradiol and 12 pg/mL for estrone. Urinary output of estradiol conjugates returned to baseline within 3 days after removal of the last (6th) system, indicating little or no estrogen accumulation in the body.


No specific investigation of the tissue distribution of estradiol absorbed from Estraderm (estradiol transdermal) in humans has been conducted. The distribution of exogenous estrogens is similar to that of endogenous estrogens. Estrogens are widely distributed in the body and are generally found in higher concentrations in the sex hormone target organs. Estrogens circulate in the blood largely bound to sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and albumin.


Exogenous estrogens are metabolized in the same manner as endogenous estrogens. Circulating estrogens exist in a dynamic equilibrium of metabolic interconversions. These transformations take place mainly in the liver. Estradiol is converted reversibly to estrone, and both can be converted to estriol, which is the major urinary metabolite. Estrogens also undergo enterohepatic recirculation via sulfate and glucuronide conjugation in the liver, biliary secretion of conjugates into the intestine, and hydrolysis in the gut followed by reabsorption. In postmenopausal women a significant portion of the circulating estrogens exist as sulfate conjugates, especially estrone sulfate, which serves as a circulating reservoir for the formation of more active estrogens.


Estradiol, estrone and estriol are excreted in the urine along with glucuronide and sulfate conjugates. Transdermal administration produces therapeutic serum levels of estradiol with lower circulating levels of estrone and estrone conjugates and requires smaller total doses than does oral therapy. Because estradiol has a short half-life (~1 hour), transdermal administration of estradiol allows a rapid decline in blood levels after an Estraderm (estradiol transdermal) system is removed, e.g., in a cycling regimen.

Special Populations

Estraderm (estradiol transdermal) was only investigated in postmenopausal women.

Drug Interactions

In vitro and in vivo studies have shown that estrogens are metabolized partially by cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4). Therefore, inducers or inhibitors of CYP3A4 may affect estrogen drug metabolism. Inducers of CYP3A4 such as St. John's Wort preparations (Hypericum perforatum), phenobarbital, carbamazepine and rifampin may reduce plasma concentrations of estrogens, possibly resulting in a decrease in therapeutic effects and/or changes in the uterine bleeding profile. Inhibitors of CYP3A4 such as erythromycin, clarithromycin, ketoconazole, itraconazole, ritonavir and grapefruit juice may increase plasma concentrations of estrogens and may result in side effects.

Clinical Studies

Women's Health Initiative Studies

The Women's Health Initiative (WHI) enrolled a total of 27,000 predominantly healthy postmenopausal women to assess the risks and benefits of the use of 0.625 mg conjugated equine estrogens (CE) per day alone and of 0.625 mg conjugated equine estrogens plus 2.5 mg medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) per day compared to placebo in the prevention of certain chronic diseases. The primary endpoint was the incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD) (nonfatal myocardial infarction and CHD death), with invasive breast cancer as the primary adverse outcome studied. A “global index” included the earliest occurrence of CHD, invasive breast cancer, stroke, pulmonary embolism (PE), endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, hip fracture, or death due to other cause. The study did not evaluate the effects of CE or CE/MPA on menopausal symptoms.

The CE/MPA substudy was stopped early because, according to the predefined stopping rule, the increased risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular events exceeded the specified benefits included in the “global index”. Results of the CE/MPA substudy, which included 16,608 women (average age of 63 years, range 50 to 79, 83.9% White, 6.5% Black, 5.5% Hispanic), after an average follow-up of 5.2 years are presented in Table 1 below.


Eventc Relative Risk
CE/MPA vs.Placebo
at 5.2Years
(95% CI*)
n= 8102
n= 8506
Absolute Risk per 10,000 woman-years
CHD events 1.29 (1.02-1.63) 30 37
  Non-fatal MI 1.32 (1.02-1.72) 23 30
  CHD death 1.18 (0.70-1.97) 6 7
Invasive breast cancerb 1.26 (1.00-1.59) 30 38
Stroke 1.41 (1.07-1.85) 21 29
Pulmonary embolism 2.13 (1.39-3.25) 8 16
Colorectal cancer 0.63 (0.43-0.92) 16 10
Endometrial cancer 0.83 (0.47-1.47) 6 5
Hip fracture 0.66 (0.45-0.98) 15 10
Death due to causes other than the events above 0.92 (0.74-1.14) 40 37
Global indexc 1.15 (1.03-1.28) 151 170
Deep vein thrombosisd 2.07 (1.49-2.87) 13 26
Vertebral fracturesd 0.66 (0.44-0.98) 15 9
Other osteoporotic fracturesd 0.77 (0.69-0.86) 170 131
a adapted from JAMA, 2002: 288: 321-333
b includes metastatic and non-metastatic breast cancer with the exception of in situ breast cancer
c a subset of the events was combined in a “global index”, defined as the earliest occurrence of CHD events, invasive breast cancer, stroke, pulmonary embolism, endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, hip fracture, or death due to other causes.
d not included in Global index
* nominal confidence intervals unadjusted for multiple looks and multiple comparisons

For those outcomes included in the “global index”, absolute excess risks per 10,000 person-years in the group treated with CE/MPA were 7 more CHD events, 8 more strokes, 8 more PEs, and 8 more invasive breast cancers, while absolute risk reductions per 10,00 woman-years were 6 fewer colorectal cancers and 5 fewer hip fractures. The absolute excess risk of events included in the “global index” was 19 per 10,000 woman-years. There was no difference between the groups in terms of all-cause mortality (See BOXED WARNINGS, WARNINGS, and PRECAUTIONS.)

Women's Health Initiative Memory Study

The Women's Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS), a substudy of WHI, enrolled 4,532 predominantly healthy postmenopausal women 65 years of age and older (47% were aged 65 to 69 years, 35% were 70 to 74 years, and 18% were 75 years of age and older) to evaluate the effects of CE/MPA (0.625 mg conjugated equine estrogens plus 2.5 mg medroxyprogesterone acetate) on the incidence of probable dementia (primary outcome) compared with placebo.

After an average follow-up of 4 years, 40 women in the estrogen/progestin group (45 per 10,000 woman-years) and 21 in the placebo group (22 per 10,000 woman-years) were diagnosed with probable dementia. The relative risk of probable dementia in the hormone therapy group was 2.05 (95% CI, 1.21 to 3.48) compared to placebo. Differences between groups became apparent in the first year of treatment. It is unknown whether these findings apply to younger postmenopausal women. (See BOXED WARNINGSand WARNINGS, Dementia.)

Last reviewed on RxList: 1/30/2017
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.

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