Unsafe At Any Dose: Deaths Seen with Hormone Therapy in JAMA

Want to increase your chances of getting node-positive breast cancer and dying from it?  Take hormone therapy.

Pharma’s lucrative estrogen plus progestin combo is already known to increase the chance of getting breast cancer by 26 percent. But an article in last month’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows hormone therapy also increases the chance of dying from breast cancer, as follow-ups are conducted on women who took it.

In fact, hormone therapy, already indicted for causing delays in breast cancer diagnosis by increasing breast density (and increasing lung cancer deaths) is now so dangerous Dr. Peter B. Bach from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who wrote an accompanying JAMA editorial, told the New York Times the very advice of “taking the lowest possible doses for the shortest possible time” is now questionable. Perhaps like prescribing the fewest and lowest tar cigarettes as possible.

It is hard to image men putting up with a therapy for “outliving their testes” that kills and maims them decade after decade. Women given Premarin for their “estrogn deficiency” in the 1980s developed so much endometrial cancer, the cancer rate dropped when they quit taking the drug. Five years ago, the same thing happened with breast cancer when women quit Prempro. Who can say “iatrodemic” physician-caused epidemic? Who can say fool me twice?

Both Prempro and Premarin are made by Wyeth, now part of Pfizer.

And just as hormone therapy is repackaged for a new generation of unwitting women, so are pharma-friendly press stories that push it, as Parade’s fabled piece with the model Lauren Hutton who extols hormone therapy did some years ago.

In April, the New York Times magazine ran a pro-hormone piece called The Estrogen Dilemma by Cynthia Gorney, relying on five Wyeth-linked researchers whose conflicts of interests were not disclosed. Three, Claudio Soares, Louann Brizendine and Thomas Clarkson have served on Wyeth’s speaker boards.

Data to support Gorney’s suggestion “that perimenopausal mood issues such as depression, memory/attention, as well as prevention of Alzheimer’s disease can all be linked to estrogen deficiency, and estrogen replacement,” is lacking writes Dr. Matthew Mintz on a blog and women should read the article “with caution.”

In 2009, the Washington Post ran a pro-hormone piece lifted intact from Massachusetts General Hospital’s industry-friendly magazine, where it ran next to a piece pushing hormone therapy for coronary heart disease written by Wyeth-linked doctors. Hormone therapy causes a 29 percent increase in heart attacks according to the Women’s Health Initiative.

Hormone therapy is also linked to asthma, lupus, scleroderma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, urinary incontinence, hearing loss, cataracts, gout, joint degeneration, dementia, stroke, blood clots, malignant melanoma, and five other kinds of cancer according to medical journals reports.

Nor does industry want to let go of the hormone gravy train.

Oblivious to the JAMA article and many others, trials are underway with NIH tax dollars, to see if women given hormones earlier than menopause will be helped instead of hurt says the current issue of Consumers Digest. (Let’s start smoking at 12!) In addition to the Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study trials at major medical centers conducted by high profile Wyeth-linked researchers, Wake Forest and Mount Sinai medical school researchers are conducting hormone experiments on “ovariectomized” primates. (Like Premarin mares, immobilized on pee lines, their offspring killed, female primates suffer unduly from hormone therapy.)

In fact, the National Institute on Aging, part of NIH, funded a symposium of the industry identified North American Menopause Society last year in which animal researchers presented data from primate experiments.

“We have developed an adult female nonhuman primate model of depression in cynomolgus monkeys, which have been used effectively for decades to model CHD [coronary heart disease] risk in women,” said the researchers, describing hormone-heart experiments that are as unethical for females, given the risks, as for primates. “Like women, socially stressed monkeys are more likely to become depressed.”

Start ‘em early researchers, some implicated in Wyeth ghostwriting scandals but unbowed, also say hormones are “neuroprotective,” despite the fact that the federal Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study found hormone therapy doubles the risk of all dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, in older women, making brains actually shrink.

Starting hormone treatment earlier also increases breast cancer risk say published studies.

Why is a drug that 5,000 women say gave them cancer still on the market? A drug whose discontinuation caused a drop in US and Canada cancer rates and a drop in heart attack rates in women according to a study in last year’s Medical Care?

And why is the government supporting pharma’s attempt to win its hormone franchise back with our tax dollars? When the risks to women are clear and the benefit belongs to pharma?

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her first book, titled Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health, has just been released by Prometheus Books. She can be reached at: martharosenberg@sbcglobal.net. Read other articles by Martha.