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Pharma to medical press: thanks for resuscitating HRT

Message Martha Rosenberg
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It wasn't a new study and it didn't reverse the Women's Health Initiative findings.

It was a reanalysis of an existing study and it tweaked the Women's Health Initiative findings. 

But that didn't stop medical reporters from a new round of gee whiz journalism about HRT following an article in the April 4 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). 
The article, "Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease by Age and Years Since Menopause," found that HRT only causes stroke and breast cancer in women under 59--not stroke, breast cancer and heart attack. 

HRT still causes stroke, breast cancer and heart attack in women over 59.

And blood clots, lung cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, gall bladder cancer, endometrial cancer, lupus, asthma, scleroderma, hearing loss, dementia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in all ages according to other reports. 

But overnight headlines like, "New Study Clears Use of Hormones for Women in Their 50s," "Review study reverses 2002 caution against HRT," and even, "HRT reduces the risk of heart disease," appeared. 

"Hormone replacement therapy, the treatment used by millions of post-menopausal women, may not be harmful after all," wrote James Morgan of the UK's Herald. "HRT may actually reduce, rather than increase, the risk of heart disease in women who use it."

"Disproving an earlier report that said Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) may lead to heart diseases and strokes in women; a new report has suggested that HRT can actually protect women from heart diseases and strokes," exalted 

How do reporters get from "doesn't cause" heart disease to "protects against"? Good science background apparently.

It wasn't that long ago that federal researchers halted the 27,000 women Women's Health Initiative study because HRT caused the very conditions it was supposed to prevent like heart disease and stroke.
Billed for decades by the popular press and Big Pharma as an anti-aging elixir, HRT became one of the biggest medical hoaxes of the second half of the 20th Century. 

Wyeth--the main pusher of HRT--had to close a manufacturing plant in Rouses Point, NY and eliminate 15% of its sales force as Prempro plummeted 76% and Premarin, 47%. (Premarin, derived from pregnant mares urine, also harms horses who are hooked up to "pee lines" while their foals are sent to slaughter.) It faces 5200 lawsuits.

Pfizer, maker of Provera, saw its lowest stock price ever in 2005.
Nor did the fall-out stop there.

Last year a study by the MD Anderson Cancer Center revealed that breast cancer dropped 7% from 2002 to 2003, the year that 20 million women abandoned HRT, presumably because they quit. Estrogen positive breast cancer dropped 15%.  

Studies by the Northern California Cancer Center and Canadian Cancer Society found even larger margins.  

But if you think it's too early for a HRT revival, think again. Ads for Vioxx-cousin Celebrex are already back and reporting brisk sales. And millions of new women are approaching 50.

Of course Big Pharma can't claim women should be on HRT from "menopause until death" anymore as Wyeth Chairman and CEO Robert Essner would coach his sales force. 

It can't claim HRT helps Alzheimer's disease--as Wyeth did as late as 2000--or prevents stroke and blood clots anymore. 

And even if it claims HRT "lowers heart attack risk" among younger women as a new marketing ploy, selling HRT again is probably doomed to failure.

"The cardiovascular risk wasn't the real reason that women stopped," says Valerie Muoio, director of the women's health program at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. 

"The real reason was the breast cancer. If the breast cancer risk wasn't there, I don't think many women would have been deterred."

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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