(Article changed on November 1, 2012 at 19:19)
It has been almost ten years since a federal study found that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) did not prevent heart disease and memory loss as advertised but increased the risk of heart attacks by 29 percent and doubled the risk of dementia. Oops.
That was not all the bad news that emerged about HRT. It also increased the risk of breast cancer by 26 percent, stroke by 41 percent, doubled the risk of blood clots and increased the risk of hearing loss, gall bladder disease, urinary incontinence, asthma, the need for joint replacement, melanoma, ovarian, endometrial and lung cancers and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to medical journals.
Not exactly the fountain of youth it was billed as by hormone drug maker Wyeth (now Pfizer) in high-budget menopause awareness TV ads starring model Lauren Hutton.
In fact, HRT was such a scourge against women, in the first year that millions quit, 2003, the incidence of US breast cancer fell seven percent. It fell 15 percent among women whose tumors were fed by estrogen. Fourteen thousand women who were expected to get breast cancer didn't said news reports. And it wasn't just breast cancer women were spared: heart attack and ovarian cancer rates also fell when women quit HRT, said news reports.
The statistics must have been embarrassing to cancer researchers and public health officials. Not only was a major cause of breast cancer hidden in plain sight, the war on cancer should apparently have been a war on cancer-causing drugs!
It was even more embarrassing because the whole sequence happened before! In 1975, an FDA panel found a link between Premarin (a Wyeth HRT drug) and endometrial cancer and when women quit the drug by the millions--the same thing happened. "There was a sharp downward trend in the incidence of endometrial cancer that paralleled a substantial reduction in prescriptions for replacement estrogens," reported the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in 1979.
Not wanting to lose its billion dollar HRT franchise, Wyeth's medical director wrote doctors in the 1970s that HRT still had "proven benefits" at the "the lowest maintenance dose" and that it was "simplistic indeed to attribute an apparent increase in the diagnosis of endometrial carcinoma solely to estrogen therapy."