Progestins

Number: 0510

(Replaces CPB 513)

Policy

Notes on Least Cost Medically Necessary Alternatives

The generic hydroxyprogesterone caproate injection is a therapeutically equivalent alternative to the brand Makena (hydroxyprogesterone caproate) Injection. There is a lack of reliable evidence that brand Makena is superior to the generic equivalent for medically necessary indications. Consequently, because Makena is more costly than the least cost generic, and the least cost generic is at least as likely to produce equivalent therapeutic results, Makena will be considered medically necessary only if the member has a contraindication, intolerance or ineffective response to the least cost generic hydroxyprogesterone caproate.

All other progestins (except Makena) are not subject to least cost alternative requirements and are considered medically necessary when criteria are met.

Depo-Provera (Injectable Medroxyprogesterone Acetate)

  1. Aetna considers Depo-Provera (medroxyprogesterone acetate injectable suspension) medically necessary for any of the following indications:

    1. Breast cancer
    2. Cystic ovaries
    3. Dysfunctional uterine bleeding
    4. Dysmenorrhea
    5. Endometrial cancer
    6. Endometriosis
    7. Menorrhagia
    8. Oligomenorrhea
    9. Renal cancer
  2. Aetna considers Depo-Provera medically necessary for the prevention of pregnancy. Note: Many plans exclude coverage of contraceptives.  Please check benefit plan descriptions for details.

  3. Aetna considers Depo-Provera medically necessary for the following indications in transgender individuals:

    1. For suppression of menstrual cycling in female to male transgender persons; or
    2. To suppress androgen levels in male to female transgender persons.

  4. Aetna considers Depo-Provera experimental and investigational for all other indications because its effectiveness for these indications has not been established.

Lunelle (Combination Estrogen and Medroxyprogesterone Injection)

Aetna considers Lunelle (combination of estrogen and medroxyprogesterone in a monthly contraceptive injection) medically necessary for prevention of pregnancy.

Aetna considers Lunelle experimental and investigational for all other indications because its effectiveness other than the one listed above has not been established.  Note: Many plans exclude coverage of contraceptives.  Please check benefit plan descriptions for details.

Makena (17-alpha Hydroxyprogesterone Caproate) Injection

Note: REQUIRES PRECERTIFICATIONFootnotes for Precertification of Makena*

Aetna considers 17-alpha hydroxyprogesterone caproate injection medically necessary for the prevention of preterm birth (defined as delivery of a liveborn singleton infant between 20 weeks and 36 6/7 weeks gestation) in women who are pregnant with a singleton pregnancy and have history of a prior spontaneous preterm birth of a singleton delivery.  Consistent with FDA-approved labeling and ACOG guidelines, Makena must be initiated between 16 weeks, 0 days and 24 weeks, 0 days of gestation and should continue through 37 weeks, 0 days gestation (see Appendix).  Also consistent with FDA-approved labeling, Makena is considered experimental and investigational for all other indications including multiple gestation, known fetal anomaly, as a tocolytic agent for women with contractions, or other risk factors for preterm birth because its effectiveness for these indications has not been established.  Makena is considered experimental and investigational for persons with the following contraindications to its use: 1) current or history of thrombosis or thromboembolic disorders; 2) known or suspected breast cancer, other hormone-sensitive cancer, or history of these conditions; 3) undiagnosed abnormal vaginal bleeding unrelated to pregnancy; 4) cholestatic jaundice of pregnancy; 5) liver tumors, benign or malignant, or active liver disease; and 6) uncontrolled hypertension.

Footnotes for Precertification of Makena*Note: Precertification of Makena is required of all Aetna participating providers and members in applicable plan designs.  For precertification of Makena, call (866) 752-7021, or fax (866) 267-3277.

Progesterone Injection

Aetna considers progesterone injection medically necessary for any of the following indications:

  1. Corpus luteum insufficiency (Note: Coverage is limited to persons with Advanced Reproductive Technology benefits covering injectable medications for infertility); or
  2. Diagnosis of endogenous estrogen production (as in diagnosis of menopause); or
  3. Menstrual disorders including secondary amenorrhea and dysfunctional uterine bleeding.

Aetna considers progesterone injection experimental and investigational for all other indications, including any of the following, because it has not been shown to be effective for these indications:

  1. Prevention of pregnancy; or
  2. Reduction of neonatal morbidity/prolongation of pregnancy in twin pregnancies; or
  3. Treatment of endometrial hyperplasia; or
  4. Treatment of premenstrual syndrome; or
  5. Treatment of stroke.

Etonogestrel Subdermal Implant

Aetna considers etonogestrel subdermal implant (Implanon, Nexplanon) medically necessary for the prevention of pregnancy. 

Aetna considers etonogestrel subdermal implant experimental and investigational for all other indications because its effectiveness other than the one listed above has not been established.  Note: Many plans exclude coverage of contraceptives.  Please check benefit plan descriptions for details. 

Progestin-Releasing Intrauterine Devices

Aetna considers progestin-releasing intrauterine devices (IUDs) (e.g., Kyleena levonorgestrel-releasing IUD; Mirena levonorgestrel-releasing IUD; Progestasert progesterone-releasing IUD; Skyla levonorgestrel-releasing IUD; Liletta levonorgestrel-releasing IUD) medically necessary for contraception and for treatment of heavy menstrual bleeding. 

Aetna considers progestin-releasing IUDs experimental and investigational for all other indications (e.g., treatment of uterine fibroids) because its effectiveness for indications other than the ones listed above has not been established.  Note: Many plans exclude coverage of contraceptives.  Please check benefit plan descriptions for details.

Progesterone Vaginal Suppositories

Aetna considers progesterone vaginal suppositories medically necessary for infertility associated with documented ovarian failure, supplementation of endogenous progesterone in women at high-risk of spontaneous abortion due to documented luteal phase deficiency, and for pregnant women with a singleton pregnancy and prior history of preterm delivery before 37 weeks gestation or short cervical length (less than 20 mm). Note: For prevention of preterm birth, treatment is between 16 weeks, 0 days and 37 weeks, 0 days gestation.

Aetna considers progesterone vaginal suppositories experimental and investigational for the reduction of the risk of preterm delivery in high-risk twin pregnancies, treatment of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)/pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and for all other indications because its effectiveness for these indications has not been established.

Background

Injectable Medroxyprogesterone

Depo-Provera is an injectable formulation of medroxyprogesterone acetate, a derivative of progesterone.  Depo-Provera has shown efficacy for the adjunctive and palliative treatment of advanced, inoperable endometrial or renal carcinoma.  Additionally, as an intramuscular injection administered every 3 months, Depo-Provera has been shown to be highly effective in the prevention of pregnancy (less than 1 % failure rate in the first year).  It is also effective in treating other various progesterone-mediated conditions.

When being used as a contraceptive, Depo-Provera is only covered under plans that specifically cover contraceptive drugs (without specifying oral contraceptives), contraceptive devices, or contraceptive drug implants.

Intra-muscular (i.m.) medroxyprogesterone has been used for the treatment of menorrhagia/abnormal uterine bleeding, as an alternative to oral progestogen therapy.  However, since progestogen therapy for menorrhagia/abnormal uterine bleeding must be cyclical in nature, experts usually prescribe oral, rather than intramuscular, medroxyprogesterone for these indications.

Parenteral medroxyprogesterone has been used as an alternative to oral forms of medroxyprogesterone when indicated to treat breast carcinoma in post-menopausal women; however, recognized drug compendia note that only parenteral medroxyprogesterone is indicated for adjunct treatment of metastatic renal or endometrial carcinoma and endometriosis.

Parenteral medroxyprogesterone was used in the past as a treatment for precocious puberty, but has been replaced by other modalities.

The U.S. Pharmacopoeia (2002) stated that, although oral medroxyprogesterone is preferred, parenteral medroxyprogesterone has been used for secondary amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, menorrhagia, oligomenorrhea, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, endometriosis, and endometrial hyperplasia accompanying polycystic ovary syndrome.

According to recognized drug compendia, oral therapy is preferred for female hormone replacement in menopause and for testing for endogenous estrogen production.

Endocrine Society guidelines on endocrine treatment of transgender individuals (Hembree, et al., 2009) recognize a role for Depo-Provera. For female-to-male transsexual persons, the guidelines state that gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogues or depot medroxyprogesterone may also be used to stop menses prior to testosterone treatment and to reduce estrogens to levels found in biological males. The guidelines explain that progestins suppress gonadotropin secretion and exert a mild peripheral anti-androgen effect in boys and men. Depo-medroxyprogesterone will suppress ovulation and progesterone production for long periods of time, although residual estrogen levels vary. In high doses, progestins are relatively effective in suppression of menstrual cycling in girls and women and androgen levels in boys and men. However, at these doses, side effects such as suppression of adrenal function and suppression of bone growth may occur.

Lunelle (combination estrogen and medroxyprogesterone injection) was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a once per month injectable contraceptive in October 1999.  Lunelle was not approved by the FDA for any indication other than the prevention of pregnancy.

Progesterone Implants

Norplant (levonorgestrel) is an implantable, combined drug and delivery system that continuously releases a low-dose of the progestin levonorgestrel.  Norplant is FDA approved for contraception and is surgically implanted in the physicians' office or clinic.  A single implant provides contraception for up to 5 years.  Norplant is especially useful for patients for whom compliance is an issue, and for patients for whom pregnancy poses an unacceptable medical risk.  It is recommended that a trial of a progestin-only oral contraceptive be carried out prior to implantation, to assess patient tolerance to drug side effects.  Norplant (levonorgestrel subdermal implant) is no longer available in the United States.

On July 17, 2006, Implanon (Organon USA, Inc., Roseland, NJ), a single-rod progestogen-only (etonogestrel) contraceptive implant, received FDA approval.  Implanon is the only implantable contraceptive device currently available in the United States.  The distribution of Norplant was stopped in 2000 after questions surfaced about the strength of certain lots of the drug.  In 2002, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (Madison, NJ), the manufacture of Norplant, decided not to re-introduce Norplant to the U.S. market.

Implanon is a long-acting (up to 3 years), reversible, contraceptive method.  It must be removed by the end of the 3rd year and may be replaced by a new Implanon at the time of removal if continued contraceptive protection is desired.  Implanon is contraindicated in women who have
  1. known or suspected pregnancy,
  2. current or past history of thrombosis or thromboembolic disorders,
  3. hepatic tumors (benign or malignant), active liver disease,
  4. undiagnosed abnormal genital bleeding,
  5. known or suspected carcinoma of the breast or personal history of breast cancer, and
  6. hypersensitivity to any of the components of Implanon.

In a multi-center clinical study, Funk and colleagues (2005) evaluated the safety and effectiveness of Implanon.  Sexually active American women (n = 330) with apparently normal menstrual cycles used the implant for up to 2 years.  All subjects recorded bleeding and/or spotting daily in a diary.  Safety was assessed through adverse experiences (AE), laboratory tests and physical and gynecological examinations.  Total exposure was 474 woman-years (6,186 cycles), and 68 % of subjects had at least 1 year of exposure.  No pregnancies occurred.  The most common bleeding pattern observed throughout the study was infrequent bleeding, defined as less than 3 episodes of bleeding in a reference period (excluding amenorrhea).  The least common pattern was frequent bleeding, defined as more than 5 episodes of bleeding in a reference period.  Infrequent, prolonged and frequent bleeding patterns were most common early in the study and declined thereafter.  During the 3-month reference periods 2 to 8 (months 4 to 24), the incidence of amenorrhea ranged from 14 to 20 %.  A total of 43 subjects (13 %) withdrew from the study because of bleeding pattern changes and 76 subjects (23 %) discontinued because of other AE.  Other common AE leading to discontinuation, besides bleeding irregularities, were emotional lability (6.1 %), weight increase (3.3 %), depression (2.4 %) and acne (1.5 %).  Use of Implanon for up to 2 years had no clinically significant effects on laboratory parameters, physical and pelvic examinations, vital signs or body mass index.  The average length of time required for Implanon insertion and that for removal were 0.5 and 3.5 mins, respectively, and all the procedures were uncomplicated.  The return to normal menstrual cycles and fertility was rapid after removal.  The authors concluded that Implanon is a safe, highly effective and rapidly reversible new method of contraception.  This finding is in agreement with that of Croxatto (2000) as well as that of Zheng et al (1999).

Progesterone Injection

According to the U.S. Pharmacopoeial Convention (2002), accepted indications for injectable progesterone and hydroxyprogesterone include:
  1. treatment of menstrual disorders including secondary amenorrhea and dysfunctional uterine bleeding;
  2. corpus luteum insufficiency treatment; and
  3. diagnosis of endogenous estrogen production.
  The U.S. Pharmacopoeia states that progesterone or hydroxyprogesterone injection can be used to test for endogenous estrogen production and can be used to determine whether low levels of estrogen are present if withdrawal bleeding does not occur after a progestin challenge in menopausal women before estrogen-progestin ovarian hormone therapy is considered.  The U.S. Pharmacopoeia notes, however, that determination that serum gonadotropins are elevated is the standard way to confirm menopause.  The U.S. Pharmacopoeial Convention has concluded that injectable progesterone and hydroxyprogesterone has not been shown to be an effective treatment for premenstrual syndrome.  Injectable progesterone or hydroxyprogesterone is not indicated for prevention of pregnancy.

Wong et al (2013) stated that pre-clinical studies suggested progesterone is neuroprotective after cerebral ischemia.  The gold standard for assessing intervention effects across studies within and between subgroups is to use meta-analysis based on individual animal data (IAD).  Pre-clinical studies of progesterone in experimental stroke were identified from searches of electronic databases and reference lists.  Corresponding authors of papers of interest were contacted to obtain IAD and, if unavailable, summary data were obtained from the publication.  Data were given as standardized mean differences (SMDs, continuous data) or odds ratios (binary data), with 95 % CIs.  In an unadjusted analysis of IAD and summary data, progesterone reduced standardized lesion volume (SMD -0.766, 95 % CI: -1.173 to -0.358, p < 0.001).  Publication bias was apparent on visual inspection of a Begg's funnel plot on lesion volume and statistically using Egger's test (p = 0.001).  The authors concluded that using individual animal data alone, progesterone was associated with an increase in death in adjusted analysis (odds ratio 2.64, 95 % CI: 1.17 to 5.97, p = 0.020).  Moreover, they stated that although progesterone significantly reduced lesion volume, it also appeared to increase the incidence of death after experimental stroke, particularly in young ovariectomized female animals.  Experimental studies must report the effect of interactions on death and on modifiers, such as age and sex.

Progesterone Vaginal Suppositories

Progesterone suppositories have been used to prevent preterm birth, habitual abortion and luteal phase defects. Progesterone suppositories must be compounded and are applied daily.

A study by de Fonesca et al (2003) is a major study supporting the use of progesterone vaginal suppositories for prevention of preterm birth.  de Fonseca et al (2003) reported on the results of a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of progestin vaginal suppositories in high-risk women, and found that the incidence of preterm birth was significantly reduced, from 28.5 % to 13.8 % for births before 37 weeks, and from 18.6 % to 2.8 % for births before 34 weeks in the placebo versus the progesterone groups, respectively.  The study involved 142 women deemed high risk due to a history of preterm birth, prophylactic cervical cerclage, or uterine malformation.  The study found a 13.8 % reduction in preterm birth before 37 weeks in subjects assigned to progesterone vaginal suppositories compared to placebo.

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study and meta-analysis, Norman et al (2009) examined the use of progesterone for prevention of preterm birth in twin pregnancy.  A total of 500 women with twin pregnancy were recruited from 9 United Kingdom National Health Service clinics specializing in the management of twin pregnancy.  Women were randomized, by permuted blocks of randomly mixed sizes, either to daily vaginal progesterone gel 90 mg (n = 250) or to placebo gel (n = 250) for 10 weeks from 24 weeks' gestation.  All study personnel and participants were masked to treatment assignment for the duration of the study.  The primary outcome was delivery or intra-uterine death before 34 weeks' gestation.  Analysis was by intention-to-treat.  Additionally these investigators undertook a meta-analysis of published and unpublished data to establish the efficacy of progesterone in prevention of early (less than 34 weeks' gestation) preterm birth or intra-uterine death in women with twin pregnancy.  Three participants in each group were lost to follow-up, leaving 247 analysed per group.  The combined proportion of intra-uterine death or delivery before 34 weeks of pregnancy was 24.7 % (61/247) in the progesterone group and 19.4 % (48/247) in the placebo group (odds ratio [OR] 1.36, 95 % CI: 0.89 to 2.09; p = 0.16).  The rate of adverse events did not differ between the 2 groups.  The meta-analysis confirmed that progesterone does not prevent early preterm birth in women with twin pregnancy (pooled OR 1.16, 95 % CI: 0.89 to 1.51).  The authors concluded that progesterone, administered vaginally, does not prevent preterm birth in women with twin pregnancy.

A number of double-blind clinical trials have failed to show that progesterone suppositories are more effective than placebo in treating premenstrual syndrome.  Although proponents of progesterone therapy for PMS have agreed that many of the clinical trials have been done inappropriately with respect to selection criteria, study size, treatment duration and/or blinding method, at least one study has controlled these variables quite well (Maddocks, 1986).  This study indicated that the response to progesterone vaginal suppositories is, at best, marginal and not significantly different from response to placebo.  Freeman (2004) stated that progesterone has consistently failed to show efficacy for severe PMS/premenstrual dysphoric disorder in large, randomized, placebo-controlled trials.

In a Cochrane review on prenatal administration of progesterone for preventing preterm birth, Dodd et al (2006) noted that intramuscular progesterone is associated with a reduction in the risk of preterm birth of less than 37 weeks' gestation, and infant birth weight of less than 2500 grams.  However, other important maternal and infant outcomes have been poorly reported to date, with most outcomes reported from a single trial only.  It is unclear if the prolongation of gestation translates into improved maternal and longer-term infant health outcomes.  Similarly, information regarding the potential harms of progesterone therapy to prevent preterm birth is limited.  The authors concluded that further information is needed to ascertain the clinical value of the use of vaginal progesterone in the prevention of preterm birth.  Guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2003) have stated that whether vaginal progestins are as effective as intramuscular progestins in preventing preterm birth “remains to be proved in a larger population.”

Cahill et al (2010) estimated which strategy is the most cost-effective for the prevention of preterm birth and associated morbidity.  These investigators used decision-analytic and cost-effectiveness analyses to estimate which of 4 strategies was superior based on quality-adjusted life-years, cost in US dollars, and number of preterm births prevented.  Universal sonographic screening for cervical length and treatment with vaginal progesterone was the most cost-effective strategy and was the dominant choice over the 3 alternatives: cervical length screening for women at increased risk for preterm birth and treatment with vaginal progesterone; risk-based treatment with 17 alpha-hydroxyprogesterone caproate (17-OHP-C) without screening; no screening or treatment.  Universal screening represented savings of $1,339 ($8,325 versus $9,664), when compared with treatment with 17-OHP-C, and led to a reduction of 95,920 preterm births annually in the United States.  The authors concluded that universal sonographic screening for short cervical length and treatment with vaginal progesterone appears to be cost-effective and yields the greatest reduction in preterm birth at less than 34 weeks' gestation.

In a multi-center, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, Hassan and associates (2011) examined the safety and effectiveness of using micronized vaginal progesterone gel to reduce the risk of preterm birth and associated neonatal complications in women with a sonographic short cervix.  Asymptomatic women with a singleton pregnancy and a sonographic short cervix (10 to 20 mm) at 19 + 0 to 23 + 6 weeks of gestation were enrolled in this study.  They were allocated randomly to receive vaginal progesterone gel or placebo daily starting from 20 to 23 + 6 weeks until 36 + 6 weeks, rupture of membranes or delivery, whichever occurred first.  Randomization sequence was stratified by center and history of a previous preterm birth.  The primary endpoint was preterm birth before 33 weeks of gestation.  Analysis was by intention- to-treat.  Of 465 women randomized, 7 were lost to follow-up and 458 (vaginal progesterone gel, n = 235; placebo, n = 223) were included in the analysis.  Women allocated to receive vaginal progesterone had a lower rate of preterm birth before 33 weeks than did those allocated to placebo (8.9 % (n = 21) versus 16.1 % (n = 36); RR, 0.55; 95 % CI: 0.33 to 0.92; p = 0.02).  The effect remained significant after adjustment for co-variables (adjusted RR, 0.52; 95 % CI: 0.31 to 0.91; p = 0.02).  Vaginal progesterone was also associated with a significant reduction in the rate of preterm birth before 28 weeks (5.1 % versus 10.3 %; RR, 0.50; 95 % CI: 0.25 to 0.97; p = 0.04) and 35 weeks (14.5 % versus 23.3 %; RR, 0.62; 95 % CI: 0.42 to 0.92; p = 0.02), respiratory distress syndrome (3.0 % versus 7.6 %; RR, 0.39; 95 % CI: 0.17 to 0.92; p = 0.03), any neonatal morbidity or mortality event (7.7 % versus 13.5 %; RR, 0.57; 95 % CI: 0.33 to 0.99; p = 0.04) and birth weight less than 1,500 g (6.4 % (15/234) versus 13.6 % (30/220); RR, 0.47; 95 % CI: 0.26 to 0.85; p = 0.01).  There were no differences in the incidence of treatment-related adverse events between the groups.  The authors concluded that administration of vaginal progesterone gel to women with a sonographic short cervix in the mid-trimester is associated with a 45 % reduction in the rate of preterm birth before 33 weeks of gestation and with improved neonatal outcome.

Klein and colleagues (2011) noted that progesterone treatment reduces the risk of preterm delivery in high-risk singleton pregnancies.  These researchers evaluated the preventive effect of vaginal progesterone in high-risk twins.  This was a sub-analysis of a Danish-Austrian, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial (PREDICT study), in which women with twin pregnancies were randomized to daily treatment with progesterone or placebo pessaries from 20 to 24 weeks until 34 weeks' gestation.  This subpopulation consisted of high-risk pregnancies, defined by the finding of cervical length less than or equal to 10th centile at 20 to 24 weeks' gestation or history of either spontaneous delivery before 34 weeks or miscarriage after 12 weeks.  Primary outcome was delivery before 34 weeks.  Secondary outcomes were complications for infants including long-term follow-up by Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) at 6 and 18 months of age.  In 72 (10.6 %) of the 677 women participating in the PREDICT study, the pregnancy was considered to be high-risk, including 47 with cervical length less than or equal to 10th centile, 28 with a history of preterm delivery or late miscarriage and 3 fulfilling both criteria.  Baseline characteristics for progesterone and placebo groups were similar.  Mean gestational age at delivery did not differ significantly between the 2 groups either in patients with a short cervix (34.3 +/- 4.1 versus 34.5 +/- 3.0 weeks, p = 0.87) or in those with a history of preterm delivery or late miscarriage (34.6 +/- 4.2 versus 35.2 +/- 2.7 weeks, p = 0.62).  Similarly, there were no significant differences between the treatment groups in maternal or neonatal complications and mean ASQ score at 6 and 18 months of age.  The authors concluded that in high-risk twin pregnancies, progesterone treatment does not significantly improve outcome.

Fonseca and colleagues (2007) noted that previous randomized trials have shown that progesterone administration in women who previously delivered prematurely reduces the risk of recurrent premature delivery.  Asymptomatic women found at mid-gestation to have a short cervix are at greatly increased risk for spontaneous early preterm delivery.  These investigators examined if progesterone reduces this risk in such women.  Cervical length was measured by transvaginal ultrasonography at a median of 22 weeks of gestation (range of 20 to 25 weeks) in 24,620 pregnant women seen for routine prenatal care.  Cervical length was 15 mm or less in 413 of the women (1.7 %), and 250 (60.5 %) of these 413 women were randomly assigned to receive vaginal progesterone (200 mg each night) or placebo from 24 to 34 weeks of gestation.  The primary outcome was spontaneous delivery before 34 weeks.  Spontaneous delivery before 34 weeks of gestation was less frequent in the progesterone group than in the placebo group (19.2 % versus 34.4 %; relative risk, 0.56; 95 % CI: 0.36 to 0.86).  Progesterone was associated with a non-significant reduction in neonatal morbidity (8.1 % versus 13.8 %; relative risk, 0.59; 95 % CI: 0.26 to 1.25; p = 0.17).  There were no serious adverse events associated with the use of progesterone.  The authors concluded that in women with a short cervix, treatment with progesterone reduces the rate of spontaneous early preterm delivery.

Simhan and Caritis (2007) stated that although the use of progestational agents to prevent preterm birth among high-risk women is promising, the results of afore-mentioned trials highlight the gaps in the current knowledge of the biologic contribution of various risk factors to preterm birth.  Unanswered questions regarding the possible mechanisms of action of the various progestins in preventing preterm birth have led to uncertainty with respect to choice of agent, route of administration, dose regimen, and clinical indication.  The authors stated that further research on progestational agents is needed.

In an editorial that accompanied the studies by Rouse et al and Fonseca et al, Thornton (2007) stated that there are at least 14 ongoing trials involving women with high-risk pregnancies (both singleton and twin) that aim to recruit a total of more than 5,000 women and the author was aware of at least 2 more currently awaiting funding decisions.  These studies should have ample power to test the effect of progesterone on important fetal outcomes as well as any differential effect in twin gestations, and long-term follow-up of the surviving children will provide important additional information.  In the meantime, the remaining uncertainties about both efficacy and fetal safety mean that even women at high-risk for preterm delivery should join one of the ongoing randomized trials, rather than take a treatment for which the efficacy and safety have not been proved.

In a Cochrane review, Su and colleagues (2010) examined if the use of progestational agents is effective as a form of treatment or co-treatment for women with threatened or established preterm labor with intact membranes.  These investigators searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (March 2009), CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2009, Issue 1), MEDLINE (1966 to January 2009) and EMBASE (1974 to January 2009).  They checked references of articles and communicated with authors and pharmaceutical industry.  Randomized controlled trials that compared progestational agents, given either alone or in combination with other tocolytics, with a control group receiving another tocolytic, placebo or no treatment, for the treatment of preterm labor were selected.  Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed trial quality.  There were some data suggesting that the use of progestational agent resulted in a reduction of preterm deliveries at less than 37 weeks of gestation.  The use of progestational agent may also attenuate the shortening of cervical length and reduce the frequency of uterine contractions.  However, the analysis was limited by the small number of available studies.  This review included 4 studies; however, the number of participants in each included study ranged from 35 to 60, which limits the power of the meta-analysis.  The authors concluded that there is currently insufficient evidence to advocate progestational agents as a tocolytic agents for women presenting with preterm labor.

Although not proven effective, progesterone has also been used during first few months of pregnancy to prevent habitual or threatened abortion due to hormonal imbalance but may also delay expulsion of a defective ovum.  Potter and Scott (2005) stated that inadequate progesterone production has been proposed a cause of recurrent pregnancy loss and progesterone is given to prevent miscarriage, despite a lack of supportive evidence.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2008) has stated that "progesterone supplementation for the prevention of recurrent preterm birth should be offered to women with a singleton pregnancy and prior spontaneous preterm birth due to spontaneous preterm labor or premature rupture of membranes. ... Progesterone supplementation for asymptomatic women with an incidentally identified very short cervical length (less than 15 mm) may be considered; however, routine cervical length screening is not recommended."

In a prospective RCT, Pirjani and colleagues (2017) compared 17OHP-C with vaginal progesterone suppository for the prevention of preterm birth in women with a sonographically short cervix and evaluated the changes of the CL over time.  Eligible patients were asymptomatic pregnant women with a sonographically short cervix.  The participants in group 1 (n = 147) received vaginal progesterone suppositories at a dose of 400 mg daily and the women in group 2 (n = 150) received an i.m. dose of 250 mg 17OHP-C once-weekly.  Transvaginal sonography was repeated every 3 weeks until 36 gestational weeks or the occurrence of preterm labor.  A total of 304 singleton pregnant women between 16 and 24 gestational weeks with CL less than 25 mm were enrolled in this study.  The rates of preterm birth were 10.4 % in the progesterone group and 14 % in the 17OHP-C group: a difference that was not statistically significant (p = 0.416).  Moreover, 264 participants underwent ultrasound examination 5 times and CL changes were studied for 15 weeks.  The results showed that the CL changes over 15 weeks were statistically significant (p < 0.001), but the method of intervention (progesterone/17OHP-C) had no significant effect on CL change (p = 0.64).  The authors concluded that these findings showed that vaginal progesterone and 17OHP-C had the same effect on the risk of preterm labor in asymptomatic women with a sonographically short cervix.  These investigators detected no significant difference between the effect of 17OHP-C and vaginal progesterone on CL changes over time.

Makena (17-Alpha-Hydroxyprogesterone Caproate Injection

Preterm birth defined as less than 37 weeks gestation and very preterm birth defined as less than 34 weeks gestation. Preterm birth affects 12% of live births in US and preterm birth rate increased by 27% between 1982 and 2002. A history of spontaneous preterm birth is the strongest risk factor for preterm birth in later pregnancies. It is also the leading cause of infant mortality and disability.

17 Alpha‐hydroxyprogesterone (17P) caproate has been used to prevent preterm birth. 17P is an oil‐based, long‐lasting formulation that allows for weekly IM dosing. Makena is a commercially available preparation containing 17P with benzoyl alcohol as a preservative.Makena is available as a 5 mL multidose vial (250 mg/mL) containing 1250 mg hydroxyprogesterone caproate. Compounded versions of 17P may or may not contain a preservative. Compounded 17p can be available in single use preparations.

A study by Meis, et al. (2003) is often cited for use of 17P to prevent preterm birth. Meis et al (2003) reported the results of a multi-center randomized clinical study, involving over 450 high risk women, showed that weekly injections of 17-alpha-hydroxyprogesterone resulted in a significant reduction in recurrent preterm birth. The study involved 463 women with history of singleton preterm births (delivery of a liveborn singleton infant between 20 weeks gestation and 36 weeks 6 days of gestation) that received prenatal care within four months of pregnancy. The study compared weekly 17P injections to placebo (castor oil) beginning at week 16‐20 and continuing until week 36. The 17P injections resulted in a 33% reduction in preterm birth before 37 weeks.

There were some limitations to the Meis, et al. study. It assumed a preterm birth rate of 37% but the placebo group had a 56% preterm rate. There were also higher than assumed preterm birth rate in the placebo group (56% vs. 37%) which are unexplained and makes the control group look much better. The results cannot be extrapolated to other populations since the inclusion criteria was strict and does not address other types of preterm birth. The study was not focused on perinatal morbidity and mortality like neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) days ‐ it only examined decrease in preterm birth rates. Morbidity and mortality increases when birth occurs at less than 34 weeks compared to less than 37 week gestation.

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, Rouse et al (2007) examined if 17 alpha-hydroxyprogesterone caproate (17P) would reduce the rate of preterm birth in twin gestations.  Healthy women with twin gestations were assigned to weekly intramuscular injections of 250 mg of 17P or matching placebo, starting at 16 to 20 weeks of gestation and ending at 35 weeks.  The primary study outcome was delivery or fetal death before 35 weeks of gestation.  A total of 661 women were randomly assigned to treatment.  Baseline demographic data were similar in the 2 study groups.  Six women were lost to follow-up; data from 655 were analyzed (325 in the 17P group and 330 in the placebo group).  Delivery or fetal death before 35 weeks occurred in 41.5 % of pregnancies in the 17P group and 37.3 % of those in the placebo group (relative risk, 1.1; 95 % confidence interval [CI]: 0.9 to 1.3).  The rate of the pre-specified composite outcome of serious adverse fetal or neonatal events was 20.2 % in the 17P group and 18.0 % in the placebo group (relative risk, 1.1; 95 % CI: 0.9 to 1.5).  Side effects of the injections were frequent in both groups, occurring in 65.9 % and 64.4 % of subjects, respectively (p = 0.69), but were generally mild and limited to the injection site.  The authors concluded that treatment with 17P did not reduce the rate of preterm birth in women with twin gestations.

In a randomized study, Abu-Musa et al (2008) examined the effect of 17-alpha-hydroxyprogesterone caproate (HPC) before embryo transfer on the outcome of in-vitro fertilization and embryo transfer (IVF-ET).  A total of 125 patients undergoing IVF-ET were randomly assigned into treatment and control groups.  In the treatment group, 63 patients received 17-HPC (250 mg, i.m.), 1 day before ET.  The control group consisted of 62 patients who did not receive any injections.  Main outcome measures were pregnancy and multiple-pregnancy rates.  The 2 groups were similar with respect to the age of patients, total dose of follicle-stimulating hormone, number of oocytes and embryos obtained, and number and quality of embryos transferred.  There was no significant difference in the pregnancy rate (34.9 % versus 38.7 %) or in the rate of multiple gestation (15.9 % versus 9.7 %) between cases and controls, respectively.  The authors concluded that the use of 17-HPC before ET does not appear to affect the outcome of IVF-ET.

In a multi-center, double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial, Lim et al (2011) estimated if administration of 17α-hydroxyprogesterone caproate can prevent neonatal morbidity in multiple pregnancies by reducing the preterm birth rate.  Women with a multiple pregnancy were randomized to weekly injections of either 250 mg 17α-hydroxyprogesterone caproate or placebo, starting between 16 and 20 weeks of gestation and continuing until 36 weeks of gestation.  The main outcome measure was adverse neonatal outcome.  Secondary outcome measures were gestational age at delivery and delivery before 28, 32, and 37 weeks of gestation.  A total of 671 women were randomized.  A composite measure of adverse neonatal outcome was present in 110 children (16 %) born to mothers in the 17α-hydroxyprogesterone caproate group, and in 80 children (12 %) of mothers in the placebo group (relative risk [RR] 1.34; 95 % CI: 0.95 to 1.89).  The mean gestational age at delivery was 35.4 weeks for the 17α-hydroxyprogesterone caproate group and 35.7 weeks for the placebo group (p = 0.32).  Treatment with 17α-hydroxyprogesterone caproate did not reduce the delivery rate before 28 weeks (6 % in the 17α-hydroxyprogesterone caproate group compared with 5 % in the placebo group, RR 1.04; 95 % CI: 0.56 to 1.94), 32 weeks (14 % compared with 10 %, RR 1.37; 95 % CI: 0.91 to 2.05), or 37 weeks of gestation (55 % compared with 50 %, RR 1.11; 95 % CI: 0.97 to 1.28).  The authors concluded that 17α-hydroxyprogesterone caproate does not prevent neonatal morbidity or preterm birth in multiple pregnancies.

Rode et al (2009) provided an update on the preventive effect of progesterone on preterm birth in singleton pregnancies.  A search in the PubMed, Embase, and Cochrane database was performed using the keywords: pregnancy, progesterone, preterm birth/preterm delivery, preterm labor, controlled trial, and randomized controlled trial.  Studies on singleton pregnancies were selected.  A meta-analysis was performed on randomized trials including singleton pregnancies with previous preterm birth.  Two new randomized controlled trials of women with previous preterm birth were added to the 4 analyzed in the Cochrane review, and the meta-analysis of all 6 studies now showed that progesterone supplementation was associated with a significant reduction of delivery before 32 weeks and of perinatal mortality.  Furthermore, a 3rd trial showed a positive effect on women with a short cervix at 23 weeks, and a 4th study showed that progesterone reduces the risk of preterm delivery in women with preterm labor.  The authors concluded that in women with a singleton pregnancy and previous preterm delivery, progesterone reduces the rates of preterm delivery before 32 weeks, perinatal death, as well as respiratory distress syndrome and necrotizing enterocolitis in the newborn.  Women with a short cervix or preterm labor may also benefit from progesterone, but further evidence is needed to support such a recommendation.  Follow-up studies should focus on possible metabolic complications in the mother or the offspring.

In a double-blind, randomized, clinical trial, Combs et al (2011) examined if prophylactic treatment with 17-alpha-hydroxyprogesterone caproate (17Pc) in twin pregnancy will reduce neonatal morbidity (primary outcome) by prolonging pregnancy (secondary outcome).  Mothers carrying dichorionic-diamniotic twins were randomly assigned (in a 2:1 ratio) to weekly injections of 250 mg of 17Pc or placebo, starting at 16 to 24 weeks and continued until 34 weeks.  In all, 160 women were randomized to 17Pc and 80 to placebo.  Composite neonatal morbidity occurred with similar frequency in the 17Pc and placebo groups (14 % versus 12 %, respectively, p = 0.62).  Mean gestational age at delivery was not affected by 17Pc (35.3 versus 35.9 weeks, p = 0.10), but a 3-day difference in median gestational age favored placebo (p = 0 0.02).  There were no perinatal deaths with 17Pc and 3 with placebo.  The authors concluded that in twin pregnancy, prophylactic treatment with 17Pc did not prolong gestation or reduce neonatal morbidity.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued an opinion on the use of progesterone for prevention of preterm birth in response to the above studies in 2003. The Committee opinion supports use of 17P to decrease preterm birth in select high‐risk groups. They were not sure if vaginal progesterone is as efficacious as 17P and needs to be studied in a larger population. They felt more studies were needed in patients with other high risk factors such as multiple gestations, short cervical length, or positive test for cervicovaginal fetal fibronectin. The opinion was to restrict use of 17P to those with documented history of previous spontaneous birth at less than 37 weeks gestation since unresolved issues remain such as best route of drug delivery and long term safety of drug.

The ACOG Committee also issued an opinion in January 2005 ahead of the release of a study sponsored by CDC, NICHD, March of Dimes entitled “stimated Effect of 17 Alphahydroxyprogesterone Caproate on Preterm Birth in the United States” The retrospective case study applied findings by Meis, et al to larger population based on 2002 birth certificate data and vital stats for two states. Taking this larger sample (n = 4,021,726), the authors found 30,000 women eligible for 17P with a 22.5% preterm birth rate. A statistical analysis for 10,000 subjects showed women could benefit from 17P (33% efficacy). The overall impact on US natality was real but modest: 2% (12.1% - 11.8%) and suggested 17P appears to be more valuable in reducing preterm birth in eligible women than the general population.

There is a limited overall effect in general population. Limitations of the study are that it is not known who used progesterone in previous gestations. The 33% efficacy found by Meis may not be generalized to the US population since the study population in their study was tightly managed. The expansion of use beyond October 2003 opinion should be guided by evidence based, controlled clinical studies to minimize unnecessary use of 17P and long term follow up of mothers and infants exposed to 17P is needed to assure safety. Future studies need to investigate clinical efficacy by race, ethnicity, maternal age, parity, prenatal care use, geography, and biologic parameters.

ACOG guidelines on prevention of preterm birth (ACOG, 2013) state that "[a] woman with a singleton gestation and a prior spontaneous preterm singleton birth should be offered progesterone supplementation starting at 16–24 weeks of gestation, regardless of transvaginal ultrasound cervical length, to reduce the risk of recurrent spontaneous preterm birth." The guideline state that "[v]aginal progesterone is recommended as a management option to reduce the risk of preterm birth in asymptomatic women with a singleton gestation without a prior preterm birth with an incidentally identified very short cervical length less than or equal to 20 mm before or at 24 weeks of gestation." The guidelines state that progesterone treatment does not reduce the incidence of preterm birth in women with twin or triplet gestations and, therefore, is not recommended as an intervention to prevent preterm birth in women with multiple gestations. The guidelines state that insufficient evidence exists to assess if progesterone and cerclage together have an additive effect in reducing the risk of preterm birth in women at high risk for preterm birth.

The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine Publications Committee (2012) sought to provide evidence-based guidelines for using progestogens for the prevention of preterm birth (PTB).  Relevant documents, in particular randomized trials, were identified using PubMed (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1983 through February 2012) publications, written in English, which evaluate the effectiveness of progestogens for prevention of PTB.  Progestogens evaluated were, in particular, vaginal progesterone and 17Pc.  Additionally, the Cochrane Library, organizational guidelines, and studies identified through review of the above were utilized to identify relevant articles.  Data were evaluated according to population studied, with separate analyses for singleton versus multiple gestations, prior PTB, or short trans-vaginal ultrasound cervical length (CL), and combinations of these factors.  Consistent with U.S. Preventive Task Force suggestions, references were evaluated for quality based on the highest level of evidence, and recommendations were graded.  Summary of randomized studies indicates that in women with singleton gestations, no prior PTB, and short CL less than or equal to 20 mm at less than or equal to 24 weeks, vaginal progesterone, either 90-mg gel or 200-mg suppository, is associated with reduction in PTB and perinatal morbidity and mortality, and can be offered in these cases.  The issue of universal CL screening of singleton gestations without prior PTB for the prevention of PTB remains an object of debate.  CL screening in singleton gestations without prior PTB can not yet be universally mandated.  Nonetheless, implementation of such a screening strategy can be viewed as reasonable, and can be considered by individual practitioners, following strict guidelines.  In singleton gestations with prior PTB 20 to 36 6/7 weeks, 17Pc 250 mg intra-muscularly weekly, preferably starting at 16 to 20 weeks until 36 weeks, is recommended.  In these women with prior PTB, if the trans-vaginal ultrasound CL shortens to less than 25 mm at less than 24 weeks, cervical cerclage may be offered.  Progestogens have not been associated with prevention of PTB in women who have in the current pregnancy multiple gestations, preterm labor, or preterm premature rupture of membranes.  There is insufficient evidence to recommend the use of progestogens in women with any of these risk factors, with or without a short CL.

In a prospective, RCT, Elimian and associates (2016) compared the effectiveness of i.m. 17-OHPC with that of vaginal progesterone for prevention of recurrent preterm birth.  Women with singleton pregnancies (16 to 20 weeks) and a history of spontaneous preterm birth (SPTB) were randomly allocated using a computer-generated randomization sequence to receive either a weekly intramuscular injection of 17-OHPC (250 mg) or a daily vaginal progesterone suppository (100 mg).  Participants, investigators, and assessors were not masked to group assignment.  The primary outcome was birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy.  Per-protocol analyses were performed: participants who completed follow-up were included.  Analyses included 66 women given intramuscular progesterone and 79 given vaginal progesterone.  Delivery before 37 weeks was recorded among 29 (43.9 %) women in the intramuscular progesterone group and 30 (37.9 %) in the vaginal progesterone group (p = 0.50).  The authors concluded that weekly intramuscular administration of 17-OHPC and daily vaginal administration of a progesterone suppository exhibited similar efficacy in reducing the rate of recurrent preterm birth.

Manuck and co-workers (2016) noted that SPTB remains a leading cause of neonatal morbidity and mortality among non-anomalous neonates in the United States; SPTB tends to recur at similar gestational ages.  Intramuscular 17-OHPC reduces the risk of recurrent SPTB.  Unfortunately, 1/3 of high-risk women will have a recurrent SPTB despite 17-OHPC therapy; the reasons for this variability in response are unknown.  These researchers hypothesized that clinical factors among women treated with 17-OHPC who suffer recurrent SPTB at a similar gestational age differ from women who deliver later, and that these associations could be used to generate a clinical scoring system to predict 17-OHPC response.  Secondary analysis of a prospective, multi-center, RCT enrolling women with greater than or equal to 1 previous singleton SPTB of less than 37 weeks' gestation.  Participants received daily omega-3 supplementation or placebo for the prevention of recurrent preterm birth; all were provided 17-OHPC.  Women were classified as a 17-OHPC responder or non-responder by calculating the difference in delivery gestational age between the 17-OHPC-treated pregnancy and her earliest previous SPTB.  Responders were women with pregnancy extending greater than or equal to 3 weeks later compared with the delivery gestational age of their earliest previous preterm birth; non-responders delivered earlier or within 3 weeks of the gestational age of their earliest previous preterm birth.  A risk score for non-response to 17-OHPC was generated from regression models via the use of clinical predictors and was validated in an independent population.  Data were analyzed with multivariable logistic regression.  A total of 754 women met inclusion criteria; 159 (21 %) were non-responders.  Responders delivered later on average (37.7 ± 2.5 weeks) than non-responders (31.5 ± 5.3 weeks), p < 0.001.  Among responders, 27 % had a recurrent SPTB (versus 100 % of non-responders).  Demographic characteristics were similar between responders and non-responders.  In a multivariable logistic regression model, independent risk factors for non-response to 17-OHPC were each additional week of gestation of the earliest previous preterm birth (odds ratio [OR], 1.23; 95 % CI: 1.17 to 1.30, p < 0.001), placental abruption or significant vaginal bleeding (OR, 5.60; 95 % CI: 2.46 to 12.71, p < 0.001), gonorrhea and/or chlamydia in the current pregnancy (OR, 3.59; 95 % CI: 1.36 to 9.48, p = 0.010), carriage of a male fetus (OR, 1.51; 95 % CI: 1.02 to 2.24, p = 0.040), and a penultimate preterm birth (OR, 2.10; 95 % CI: 1.03 to 4.25, p = 0.041).  These clinical factors were used to generate a risk score for nonresponse to 17-OHPC as follows: black +1, male fetus +1, penultimate preterm birth +2, gonorrhea/chlamydia +4, placental abruption +5, earliest previous preterm birth was 32 to 36 weeks +5.  A total risk score greater than 6 was 78 % sensitive and 60 % specific for predicting non-response to 17-OHPC (area under the curve = 0.69).  This scoring system was validated in an independent population of 287 women; in the validation set, a total risk score greater than 6 performed similarly with a 65 % sensitivity, 67 % specificity and area under the curve of 0.66.  The authors concluded that several clinical characteristics define women at risk for recurrent preterm birth at a similar gestational age despite 17-OHPC therapy and can be used to generate a clinical risk predictor score.  These data should be refined and confirmed in other cohorts, and women at high risk for non-response should be targets for novel therapeutic intervention studies.

In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Saccone and colleagues (2017) evaluated the effectiveness of vaginal progesterone compared with 17-OHPC in prevention of SPTB in singleton gestations with prior SPTB.  Searches were performed in electronic databases.  No restrictions for language or geographic location were applied.  These researchers included all RCTs of asymptomatic singleton gestations with prior SPTB who were randomized to prophylactic treatment with either vaginal progesterone (i.e., intervention group) or intramuscular 17-OHPC (i.e., comparison group).  The primary outcome was SPTB less than 34 weeks.  Secondary outcomes were SPTB less than 37 weeks, less than 32 weeks, less than 28 weeks and less than 24 weeks, maternal adverse drug reaction and neonatal outcomes.  The summary measures were reported as relative risk (RR) with 95 % confidence interval (CI).  A total of 3 RCTs (680 women) were included.  The mean gestational age at randomization was about 16 weeks.  Women were given progesterone until 36 weeks or delivery.  Regarding vaginal progesterone, 1 study used 90-mg gel daily; 1 used 100-mg suppository daily; and the other used one 200-mg suppository daily.  All the included trials used 250-mg 17-OHPC weekly as comparison group.   Women who received vaginal progesterone had a significantly lower rate of SPTB less than 34 weeks (17.5 % versus 25.0 %; RR 0.71, 95 % CI: 0.53 to 0.95; low quality of evidence) and SPTB less than 32 weeks (8.9 % versus 14.5 %; RR 0.62, 95 % CI: 0.40 to 0.94; low quality of evidence) compared to women who received 17-OHPC.  There were no significant differences in the rate of SPTB less than 37 weeks, SPTB less than 28 weeks and SPTB less than 24 weeks.  The rate of women who reported adverse drug reactions was significantly lower in the vaginal compared to 17-OHPC group (7.1 % versus 13.2 %; RR 0.53, 95 % CI: 0.31 to 0.91; very low quality of evidence).  Regarding neonatal outcomes, vaginal progesterone was associated with a lower rate of neonatal intensive care unit (ICU) admission compared to 17-OHPC (18.7 % versus 23.5 %; RR 0.63, 95 % CI: 0.47 to 0.83; low quality of evidence).  For comparison of 17-OHPC versus vaginal progesterone, the quality of evidence was down-graded for all outcomes by at least 1 degree due to imprecision (the optimal information size was reached) and by at least 1 degree due to indirectness (different interventions).  The authors concluded that daily vaginal progesterone started at about 16 weeks (either suppository or gel) is a reasonable, if not better, alternative to weekly 17-OHPC for prevention of SPTB in women with singleton gestations and prior SPTB.  However, the quality level of the summary estimates was low/very low as assed by GRADE, indicating that the true effect may, or is even likely to, be substantially different from the estimate of the effect.

Furthermore, an UpToDate review on “Progesterone supplementation to reduce the risk of spontaneous preterm birth” (Norwitz, 2017) stated that “In women with a prior preterm birth, continuing hydroxyprogesterone caproate supplementation after placement of a cerclage has not been proven to be useful, but available data are limited to secondary analysis of one underpowered trial; and provided the following recommendations:

  • For women with a singleton pregnancy who have had a previous spontaneous singleton preterm birth, we suggest progesterone treatment (Grade 2B).  We suggest intramuscular injections of hydroxyprogesterone caproate rather than vaginal progesterone (Grade 2C), beginning in the second trimester (16 to 20 weeks) and continuing through the 36th week of gestation.  We prescribe 250 mg weekly.  Natural progesterone administered vaginally is a reasonable alternative.
  • For women with twin pregnancies and a previous spontaneous preterm birth, the author prescribes hydroxyprogesterone caproate.  Not prescribing progesterone supplementation or prescribing natural progesterone vaginally is also reasonable.
  • Routine progesterone supplementation does not appear to be useful for preventing preterm birth in the setting of preterm premature rupture of membranes or after an episode of arrested preterm labor.  There is no information on efficacy in women with a positive fetal fibronectin test.  The effect in women with a cerclage is unclear.

Progesterone containing products are classified as pregnancy category D: teratogenic properties demand evaluation of risk versus benefit.

Progestin-Releasing IUDs

Progestin-releasing intrauterine systems (e.g., Kyleena levonorgestrel-releasing IUD; Mirena levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system; Progestasert progesterone-releasing intrauterine device) are safe, effective, long-term contraceptive devices.  Progestasert offers pregnancy prevention for one year, and Mirena offers pregnancy prevention for 5 years.  Progestin-releasing intrauterine systems have also been shown to decrease the volume of menstrual blood loss in women with normal periods and those with menorrhagia.  Heavy menstrual bleeding markedly impairs the quality of life in many healthy women.  Management of the condition usually depends on the degree of bleeding and discomfort found acceptable by the individual woman.  Medical treatments include oral medications and a hormone-releasing intrauterine system (e.g., Mirena, Progestasert).  Surgical options include conservative surgery (e.g., uterine resection or ablation) and hysterectomy.  A Cochrane review (Marjoribanks et al, 2003) compared the safety, effectiveness, and acceptability of surgery versus medical therapy for heavy menstrual bleeding.  The authors concluded that surgery reduces menstrual bleeding at one year more than medical treatments, but a hormone-releasing intrauterine system appears equally beneficial in improving quality of life and may control bleeding as effectively as conservative surgery over the long-term.

Kuanitz et al (2009) compared the effects of the levonorgestrel intrauterine system and endometrial ablation in reducing heavy menstrual bleeding.  This systematic review and meta-analysis was restricted to randomized controlled trials in which menstrual blood loss was reported using pictorial blood loss assessment chart scores.  A total of 6 randomized controlled trials that included 390 women (levonorgestrel intrauterine system, n = 196; endometrial ablation, n = 194) were retrieved.  Three studies pertained to 1st-generation endometrial ablation (manual hysteroscopy) and 3 to 2nd-generation endometrial ablation (thermal balloon).  Study characteristics and quality were recorded for each study.  Data on the effect of treatment on pictorial blood loss assessment chart scores were abstracted, integrated with meta-analysis techniques, and presented as weighted mean differences.  Both treatment modalities were associated with similar reductions in menstrual blood loss after 6 months (weighted mean difference, -31.96 pictorial blood loss assessment chart score [95 % CI: -65.96 to 2.04]), 12 months (weighted mean difference, 7.45 pictorial blood loss assessment chart score [95 % CI: -12.37 to 27.26]), and 24 months (weighted mean difference, -26.70 pictorial blood loss assessment chart score [95 % CI: -78.54 to 25.15]).  In addition, both treatments were generally associated with similar improvements in quality of life in 5 studies that reported this as an outcome.  No major complications occurred with either treatment modality in these small trials.  The author concluded that based on the meta-analysis of 6 randomized clinical trials, the efficacy of the levonorgestrel intrauterine system in the management of heavy menstrual bleeding appears to have similar therapeutic effects to that of endometrial ablation up to 2 years after treatment.

On January 9, 2013, the FDA approved Skyla IUD, a levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system, for the prevention of pregnancy for up to 3 years. On February 27, 2015, the FDA apaproved Liletta levonorgestrel-releasing IUD system to prevent pregnancy for up to 3 years.

In a Cochrane review, Sangkomkamhang et al (2013) determined the effectiveness of progestogens or progestogen-releasing intrauterine systems in treating pre-menopausal women with uterine fibroids.  These investigators searched the Menstrual Disorders and Subfertility Group Specialized Register (inception to August 17, 2012), CENTRAL (inception to August 17, 2012) and Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE) in The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE (inception to 1August 17, 2012), Ovid EMBASE (January 1, 2010 to August 17, 2012), Ovid PsycINFO (inception to August 17, 2012), CINAHL database, and trials registers for ongoing and registered trials.  All identified published or unpublished randomized controlled trials (RCTs) assessing the effect of progestogens or progestogen-releasing intrauterine systems in treating pre-menopausal women with uterine fibroids.  These researchers assessed all potentially eligible studies identified as a result of the search strategy.  Two review authors extracted data from each included study using an agreed form and assessed the risk of bias.  They resolved discrepancies through discussion.  This review included 3 studies.  However, data for progestogen-releasing intrauterine systems were available from only 1 study that compared 29 women with a levonorgestrel (LNG)-IUS versus 29 women with a combined oral contraceptive (COC) for treating uterine fibroids.  There was a significant reduction of menstrual blood loss (MBL) in women receiving the LNG-IUS compared to the COC using the alkaline hematin test (mean difference (MD) 77.5 %, 95 % CI: 71.3 % to 83.67 %, 58 women) and a pictorial assessment chart (PBAC) (MD 34.5 %, 95 % CI: 14.9 % to 54.1 %, 58 women).  The reduction in uterine fibroid size was significantly greater in the leuprorelin group at 16 weeks compared to the progestogen lynestrenol group (MD -15.93 mm, 95 % CI: -18.02 to -13.84 mm, 46 women).  There was no RCT evaluating the effect of DMPA on uterine fibroids.  The authors concluded that progestogen-releasing intrauterine systems appear to reduce menstrual blood loss in pre-menopausal women with uterine fibroids.  Oral progestogens did not reduce fibroid size or fibroid-related symptoms.  However, there was a methodological limitation and the one included study with data had a small sample size.  They stated that this evidence is insufficient to support the use of progestogens or progestogen-releasing intrauterine systems in treating pre-menopausal women with uterine fibroids.

The FDA approved Kyleena, Bayer AG’s new low dose levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system (Bayer, 2016). Kyleena is a plastic T-shaped device containing 19.5mg of the progestin levonorgestrel. The size of the Kyleena T-body is 28mm x 30mm, and its placement tube has a diameter of 3.8mm. Once placed in the uterus, Kyleena continuously releases a low dose of the progestin directly into the uterus. Kyleena provides birth control for up to five years and also offers return to fertility after removal. 

Appendix

Dosing of Makena

  • Makena is available as a 5 mL multidose vial (250 mg/mL) containing 1250 mg hydroxyprogesterone caproate.
  • Makena is administered intra-muscularly at a dose of 250 mg (1 ml) once-weekly.
  • Treatment is initiated between 16 weeks, 0 days and 24 weeks, 0 day of gestation.
  • Administration is continued once-weekly until week 37 (through 36 weeks, 6 days) of gestation or delivery, whichever occurs first.

Source: Makena Prescribing Information, 2010.  Also, the ACOG’s practice bulletin on “Prediction and prevention of preterm birth” (2013; reaffirmed 2014) stated that “A woman with a singleton gestation and a prior spontaneous preterm singleton birth should be offered progesterone supplementation starting at 16 to 24 weeks of gestation to reduce the risk of recurrent spontaneous preterm birth”.

Table: CPT Codes / HCPCS Codes / ICD-10 Codes
Code Code Description

Information in the [brackets] below has been added for clarification purposes.   Codes requiring a 7th character are represented by "+":

Depo-Provera (injectable medroxyprogesterone acetate):

Other CPT codes related to the CPB:

96372 Therapeutic, prophylactic, or diagnostic injection (specify substance or drug); subcutaneous or intramuscular

HCPCS codes covered if selection criteria are met:

J1050 Injection, medroxyprogesterone acetate, 1 mg

ICD-10 codes covered if selection criteria are met:

C50.011 - C50.019
C50.111 - C50.119
C50.211 - C50.219
C50.311 - C50.319
C50.411 - C50.419
C50.511 - C50.519
C50.611 - C50.619
C50.811 - C50.819
C50.911 - C50.919
Malignant neoplasm of female breast
C54.1 Malignant neoplasm of endometrium
C64.1 - C66.9
C68.0 - C68.9
Malignant neoplasm of kidney renal pelvis, ureter and other and unspecified urinary organs
E28.0 - E28.1 Estrogen and androgen excess
E28.2 Polycystic ovarian syndrome
E88.40 - E88.41 Unspecified mitochondrial metabolism disorder and MELAS syndrome
F64.1 Gender identity disorder in adolescence and adulthood
N80.0 - N80.9 Endometriosis
N83.00 - N83.299 Follicular cyst, corpus luteum cyst and other and unspecified ovarian cysts
N89.7 Hematocolpos
N91.0 - N93.9 Absent, scanty, rare, excessive, frequent and irregular menstruation and other abnormal uterine and vaginal bleeding
N94.4 - N94.6 Dysmenorrhea
N95.0 Postmenopausal bleeding
N98.1 Hyperstimulation of ovaries
Z30.018 Encounter for initial prescription of other contraceptives
Z30.49 Encounter for surveillance of other contraceptives

Lunelle (combination estrogen and medroxyprogesterone injection):

Other CPT codes related to the CPB:

96372 Therapeutic, prophylactic, or diagnostic injection (specify substance or drug); subcutaneous or intramuscular

ICD-10 codes covered if selection criteria are met:

Z30.018 Encounter for initial prescription of other contraceptives
Z30.49 Encounter for surveillance of other contraceptives

Hydroxyprogesterone Caproate:

HCPCS codes covered if selection criteria are met:

J1726 Injection, hydroxyprogesterone caproate (Makena), 10 mg
J1729 Injection, hydroxyprogesterone caproate, not otherwise specified, 10 mg

ICD-10 codes covered if selection criteria are met:

O09.211 - O09.219 Supervision of pregnancy with history of pre-term labor
O47.02 False labor before 37 completed weeks of gestation, second trimester
O47.03 False labor before 37 completed weeks of gestation, third trimester
Z87.51 Personal history of pre-term labor

ICD-10 codes not covered for indications listed in the CPB:

C22.0 - C22.9 Malignant neoplasm of liver and intrahepatic bile ducts
C50.011 - C50.019, C50.111 - C50.119
C50.211 - C50.219, C50.311 - C50.319
C50.411 - C50.419, C50.511 - C50.519
C50.611 - C50.619. C50811 - C50.819
C50.911 - C50.919
Malignant neoplasm of female breast
C53.0 - C57.7 Malignant neoplasm of cervix uteri, corput uteri, ovary and other and unspecified female genital organs
D13.4 - D13.5 Benign neoplasm of liver and extrahepatic bile ducts
I10 - I16.2 Hypertensive disease
I26.01 - I26.99 Pulmonary embolism
I65.01 - I66.9 Occlusion and stenosis of precerebral and cereral arteries not resulting in cerebral infarction
I74.01 - I76 Arterial embolism and thrombosis and atheroembolism
I80.00 - I82.91 Phlebitis, thrombophlebitis, embolism and thrombosis, venous
K70.0 - K77 Diseases of liver
N88.3 Incompetence of cervix uteri [not pregnant]
N89.8 Other specified noninflammatory disorders of vagina [undiagnosed abnormal vaginal bleeding unrelated to pregnancy]
N93.8 Other specified abnormal uterine and vaginal bleeding [Dysfunctional or functional uterine or vaginal bleeding NOS] [undiagnosed abnormal vaginal bleeding unrelated to pregnancy]
N93.9 Abnormal uterine and vaginal bleeding, unspecified [undiagnosed abnormal vaginal bleeding unrelated to pregnancy]
O22.20 - O22.33 Superficial thrombophlebitis and deep phlebothrombosis in pregnancy
O22.50 - O22.53 Cerebral venous thrombosis in pregnancy
O26.611 - O26.63 Liver and biliary tract disorders in pregnancy, childbirth and the puerperium
O30.001 - O30.019
O30.031 - O30.93
O31.10x+ - O31.8x9+
Multiple gestation and complications specific to multiple gestation
O35.0xx+ - O35.9 Maternal care for known or suspected fetal abnormality and damage
O36.011+ - O36.93 Maternal care for other fetal problems
O87.0 - O87.1 Superficial thrombophlebitis and deep phlebothrombosis in the puerperium
O87.3 Cerebral venous thrombosis in the puerperium
O88.011 - O88.019 Obstectric air embolism in pregnancy
O99.89 [N88.3 also required] Cervical incompetence, postpartum condition or complication [women with a cerclage in place]
Z85.3 - Z85.44 Personal history of malignant neoplasm of breast, cervix uteri, ovary, other parts of uterus and other and unspecified part of femail genital organs
Z86.711 - Z86.72 Personal history of venous thrombosis and embolism and thrombophlebitis

Progesterone injection:

Other CPT codes related to the CPB:

96372 Therapeutic, prophylactic, or diagnostic injection (specify substance or drug); subcutaneous or intramuscular

HCPCS codes covered if selection criteria are met:

J2675 Injection, progesterone acetate, per 50 mg

ICD-10 codes covered if selection criteria are met:

E23.0 Hypopituitarism
E28.310 - E28.39 Premature menopause and other primary ovarian failure
N89.7 Hematocolpos
N91.0 - N92.3
N92.5 - N93.9
Absent, scanty, rare, excessive, frequent and irregular menstruation and other abnormal uterine and vaginal bleeding
N95.1 Menopausal and female climacteric states
N97.0 - N97.9 Female infertility

ICD-10 codes not covered for indications listed in the CPB:

N85.00 - N85.02 Endometrial hyperplasia
N87.0 - N87.9 Dysplasia of cervix uteri
N94.3 Premenstrual tension syndrome
O30.001 - O30.099 Twin Pregnancy [not covered for reduction of neonatal morbidity/prolongation of pregnancy in twin pregnancies]
Z30.018 Encounter for initial prescription of other contraceptives
Z30.40 Encounter for surveillance of contraceptives, unspecified
Z30.49 Encounter for surveillance of other contraceptives
Z30.8 Encounter for other contraceptive management

Etonogestrol subdermal implant (Implanon):

CPT codes covered if selection criteria are met:

11976 Removal, implantable contraceptive capsules

HCPCS codes covered if selection criteria are met:

J7307 Etonogestrel (contraceptive) implant system, including implant and supplies

ICD-10 codes covered if selection criteria are met:

Z30.018 Encounter for initial prescription of other contraceptives
Z30.49 Encounter for surveillance of other contraceptives

Progestin-releasing intrauterine devices:

CPT codes covered if selection criteria are met:

58300 Insertion of intrauterine device (IUD)
58301 Removal of intrauterine device (IUD)

HCPCS codes covered if selection criteria are met:

J7296 Levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine contraceptive system (Kyleena), 19.5 mg
J7301 Levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine contraceptive system, 13.5 mg
S4981 Insertion of levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system
S4989 Contraceptive intrauterine device (e.g., Progestacert IUD), including implants and supplies

ICD-10 codes covered if selection criteria are met:

N92.0 Excessive and frequent menstruation with regular cycle
N92.4 Excessive bleeding in the premenopausal period
Z30.430 Encounter for insertion of intrauterine contraceptive device
Z30.431 Encounter for routine checking of intrauterine contraceptive device
Z30.432 Encounter for removal of intrauterine contraceptive device
Z30.433 Encounter for removal and reinsertion of intrauterine contraceptive device

ICD-10 codes not covered for indications listed in the CPB:

D25.0 - D25.9 Leiomyoma of uterus

Progesterone vaginal suppositories:

ICD-10 codes covered if selection criteria are met:

E23.0 Hypopituitarism
E28.310 - E28.39 Premature menopause and other primary ovarian failure
E89.40 - E89.41 Postprocedural ovarian failure
N97.0 - N97.9 Female infertility
O09.211 - O09.219 Supervision of pregnancy with history of pre-term labor
O26.872 - O26.879 Cervical shortening

ICD-10 codes not covered for indications listed in the CPB:

N94.3 Premenstrual tension syndrome
O30.001 - O30.099 Twin pregnancy [risk of preterm delivery in high-risk twin pregnancies]

The above policy is based on the following references:

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  109. Elimian A, Smith K, Williams M, et al. A randomized controlled trial of intramuscular versus vaginal progesterone for the prevention of recurrent preterm birth. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2016;134(2):169-172.
  110. Manuck TA, Stoddard GJ, Fry RC, et al. Nonresponse to 17-alpha hydroxyprogesterone caproate for recurrent spontaneous preterm birth prevention: Clinical prediction and generation of a risk scoring system. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2016;215(5):622.e1-622.e8.
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  112. Norwitz ER. Progesterone supplementation to reduce the risk of spontaneous preterm birth. UpToDate [online serial]. Waltham, MA: UpToDate; reviewed March 2017.
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