Estrogen-progestins and progestins for the management of endometriosis

Estrogen-progestins and progestins have the best efficacy, safety, tolerability, and cost profile among available drugs used to manage symptomatic endometriosis and should be considered for long-term treatments to relieve pain and avoid repeated surgery.

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Volume 106, Issue 7, Pages 1552-1571


Paolo Vercellini, M.D., Laura Buggio, M.D., Nicola Berlanda, M.D., Giussy Barbara, M.D., Edgardo Somigliana, M.D., Silvano Bosari, M.D.


Endometriosis is characterized by frequent recurrences of symptoms and lesions even after extirpative surgery. Because medical therapies control but do not cure the disease, long periods of pharmacologic management may be needed until pregnancy desire or, sometimes, physiologic menopause. Hormonal drugs suppress ovulation and menstruation and have similar beneficial effects against pain. However, only estrogen-progestins and progestins have safety/tolerability/cost profiles that allow long-term use. These compounds induce atrophy of eutopic and ectopic endometrium, have antiinflammatory and proapoptotic properties, and can be delivered via different modalities, including oral, transdermal, subcutaneous, intramuscular, vaginal, and intrauterine routes. At least two-thirds of symptomatic women are relieved from pain and achieve appreciable improvements in health-related quality of life. Progesterone resistance may cause nonresponse in the remaining one-third. When using estrogen-progestins continuously, individualized, tailored cycling should be explained to improve compliance. All combinations demonstrated a similar effect on dysmenorrhea, independently from progestin type. Estrogen-progestins with the lowest possible estrogen dose should be chosen to combine optimal lesion suppression and thrombotic risk limitation. Progestins should be suggested in women who do not respond or manifest intolerance to estrogen-progestins and in those with dyspareunia and/or deep lesions. Progestins do not increase significantly the thrombotic risk and generally may be used when estrogens are contraindicated. Estrogen-progestins and progestins reduce the incidence of postoperative endometrioma recurrence and show a protective effect against endometriosis-associated epithelial ovarian cancer risk.

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Fertility and Sterility

Editorial Office, American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Fertility and Sterility┬« is an international journal for obstetricians, gynecologists, reproductive endocrinologists, urologists, basic scientists and others who treat and investigate problems of infertility and human reproductive disorders.