A mammogram indicating the presence of
breast cancer.

Link Between Postmenopausal Hormones, Cancer Risk Strengthened

December 15, 2008 10:58 AM
by Emily Coakley
A new study strengthens the link between hormone replacement therapy and a higher risk of heart attacks and breast cancer in women.

Study Clarifies Hormone-Cancer Link

A study involving hormone replacement therapy was stopped in 2002 after researchers saw a higher risk of breast cancer and heart trouble. Since then, the use of hormones for postmenopausal women has dropped by 70 percent.

Though at the time there was confusion over the safety and efficacy of hormones, new study results suggest that taking estrogen and progestin for a couple of years could raise the risk of developing breast cancer.

“Collectively, these new findings are likely to end any doubt that the risks outweigh the benefits for most women,” the Associated Press said.

During the same period that fewer women took hormones, the incidence of breast cancer also dropped.

The findings, from the federal Women’s Health Initiative, were presented over the weekend at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium and involved tracking thousands of women.

After the Women’s Health Initiative stopped part of its study in 2002, recommendations were to prescribe the lowest-possible dose of hormones and only to alleviate the most severe of symptoms associated with menopause.

Most of the women who are prescribed the hormones for a short period of time won’t get cancer from it, according to AP.

Another study presented at the symposium suggests that women who develop breast cancer after taking hormone replacement therapy “have a lower risk of dying from the disease,” HealthDay reported.

“We found that women who took hormone therapy before their diagnosis were more likely to be diagnosed with estrogen receptor-positive cancer, as well as having breast cancers that were more favorable in other ways, [such as being] smaller and detected at an earlier stage,” said Sarah Marshall, a senior statistician at University of California-Irvine and one of the study’s authors, according to HealthDay.

Related Topic: Senator examining ghostwriting claims

Just last week Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent letters to the pharmaceutical company Wyeth and a company that does medical writing requesting “payments related to the preparation of journal articles and the activities of doctors who were recruited to put their names on them for publication,” The New York Times said.

Grassley is concerned that ghostwriters wrote articles about the hormone replacement therapy Prempro, even after news of the potential cancer risk had broken.

A Wyeth spokesman, Doug Petkus, told the Times, “The authors of the articles in question, none of whom were paid, exercised substantive editorial control over the content of the articles and had the final say, in all respects, over the content.”

Wyeth isn’t the first company to be accused of using ghostwriters. Earlier this year, a case study in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined documents released during a lawsuit against Merck over the painkiller Vioxx.

“The case study’s authors were plaintiffs’ consultants in the Vioxx lawsuits. The study suggests that numerous Vioxx studies were written by ghostwriters Merck employed, but other doctors signed off on them as their own work,” findingDulcinea wrote.

Reference: Breast cancer, menopause


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