Give It Up, Wyeth

The bad news at this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Orlando is women on hormone therapy or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) who develop lung cancer are 60 percent more likely to die from it. The findings are from continued tracking of participants in the federal Women’s Health Initiative study which was terminated in 2002 because of adverse effects.

But the good news according to hormone maker Wyeth’s Joseph Camardo, MD is that younger women, aged 51 to 54, are starting to use HRT rather than women older than 63 and “the same risks may not apply with the new patterns of use!”

The “timing” theory–that discredited hormone therapy still has benefits for younger women–is gaining traction in articles and marketing materials thanks to industry sponsored studies showing “new” cognitive, heart and metabolic benefits. In fact in May the Washington Post reprinted such HRT revisionism from the “news source” of the Massachusetts General Hospital website where it was flanked by an article about HRT’s heart benefits–written by a Wyeth paid doctor–and an exploration of HRT’s “cancer question.” Five thousand women with Prempro and Premarin injury suits wouldn’t call it a question.

Doctors at a Philippine Society of Climacteric Medicine convention this month in San Juan City are similarly re-enamored with HRT according to the Philippine news site tribuneonline, claiming it shields women from cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, cognitive disorders, dementia, skin atrophy, atherosclerosis and even urge-stress incontinence–abjuring the science.

“The beneficial effects of HRT in younger postmenopausal women appear to be due to HRT’s ability to increase high-density lipoproteins (“good” fats) and reduce low-density lipoproteins (“bad” fats), glucose, weight, insulin levels, the incidence of new onset diabetes and a handful of other risk factors for heart diseases,” says Shelley R. Salpeter, MD, clinical professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine and a Wyeth paid consultant according to the American Journal of Medicine.

Last summer the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth also took a second look at HRT with a continuing medical education course titled a “A Fresh Look at Hormone Therapy,” chaired by James A. Simon, MD a consultant and paid speaker for Wyeth according to course materials.

“Estrogen deficiency, the hallmark of menopause, can diminish a woman’s quality of life,” begins the course’s audacious “monograph” as it it were still 1966 and “Feminine Forever,” were a bestseller–whereupon it also segues into HRT’s “cardioprotective” properties, a decades long marketing claim never approved by the FDA and therefore illegal.

Of course, most people realize that HRT causes most of the conditions it was supposed to prevent–the H stands for hoax–and was hardly the fountain of youth it was marketed as for 40 years. In fact HRT is so dangerous, WHI was stopped so no more women would sustain its adverse side effects.

Instead of preventing heart disease, it increases risk by 26 percent.

Instead of preventing stroke, it increases the risk by 41 percent.

Instead of preventing breast cancer, it increases the risk by 29 percent.

Instead of preventing blood clots, it doubles the risk.

And there’s more. Hormone therapy also increases the risk of ovarian cancer, dementia, asthma, malignant melanoma, urinary incontinence, gout, the need for joint replacement, gallbladder disease, dying of lung cancer, a shrinking brain and complicates diabetes according to other studies.

Nor do the adverse effects happen slowly. Findings from last year’s San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium show HRT doubles the risk for breast cancer in just five years and increases the risk in just two years.

HRT is such a preventable cause of disease among women, US breast-cancer cases fell 7 percent and estrogen-positive cases 15 percent as soon as women turned their backs on HRT–sparing 14,000 women the first year. Cases of US women having heart attacks fell too according to the journal Medical Care and CNN. Such much for cardioprotective.

Now that HRT is recommended for the briefest possible use (if at all), hormone makers aren’t proclaiming women should be on it from “menopause to death,” like Wyeth’s former CEO Robert Essner rhapsodized during HRT’s golden age when Wyeth pocketed a cool $3 billion a year “replacing” women’s hormones.

They now use the term “menopause transition” hoping the transition will last five years.

But whether women are prescribed HRT, seizure medications, antidepressants or the electroconvulsive therapy which was also once popular for menopause, the take home message is aging is a disease in women and they need medication.

And the “timing” theory is all about the timing of revenue.

MARTHA ROSENBERG can be reached at:





Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).