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Several New Risks Emerge For Women Taking Hormone Replacement Drugs

October 16, 2013

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs are a popular therapeutic option for women going through menopause. The idea is that replacing the body’s diminishing supply of estrogen and progesterone may alleviate discomfort, prolong life, or even delay or reduce the onset of dementia. Three recently published studies, however, suggest the risks associated with HRT may outweigh its benefits. More specifically there is a documented correlation between HRT use and the development of breast cancer and/or blood clots.

A blog post at notes that just last year Pfizer paid out $1.2 billion to settle several thousand lawsuits alleging a link between breast cancer and use of the manufacturer’s Prempro, a pharmaceutical form of hormone replacement therapy. One study suggests that the correlation between breast cancer and Prempro usage varies depending upon the weight of the patient taking the medication. A second study reports that HRT drugs are not a viable defense against heart disease and dementia, as some have alleged, while a third study provides evidence that a different Pfizer HRT product called Premarin may increase the likelihood that a woman will develop blood clots.

An article published in the September 3 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute determined that among those taking hormone replacement drugs, women who were underweight or of normal weight face the highest risk of breast cancer, while overweight and obese women experience no additional risk. While patients’ body mass index (BMI) was a significant variable in this study, researchers also note that “breast cancer risk varies according to race/ethnicity [and] breast density. This risk stratification could help in advising HRT use for the relief of menopausal symptoms.”

Later that month, on September 30, researchers from the University of Washington published the results of a six-year study in JAMA Internal Medicine that suggests those taking certain HRT drugs are at “an increased venous thrombosis [blood clot] risk and an increased myocardial infarction risk.” Moreover, analysis of the blood of those patients taking such hormone replacement medications “indicat[ed] a stronger clotting propensity,” suggesting that their blood is more prone to clotting and thus more prone to a higher level of “cardiovascular risk.”

Just days later, on October 2, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article detailing the results of administering HRT drugs to women between the ages of 50 and 79. Researchers explained that those taking the drugs showed an elevated risk of heart disease, “stroke, pulmonary embolism, dementia (in women aged [65 and older]), gallbladder disease, and urinary incontinence” while facing a lower risk in only three areas: “hip fractures, diabetes, and vasomotor symptoms [related to circulation in the blood vessels].” Further, the team concluded that these “hormone therapy trials do not support use of this therapy for chronic disease prevention,” though the authors do claim that it is appropriate for managing symptoms in some women.

Pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and Wyeth (now owned by Pfizer) have already paid out large amounts to patients alleging a link between breast cancer and hormone replacement therapy drugs. What is even worse is that in many of these cases the drug manufacturer was also forced to pay punitive damages for allegedly hiding evidence of such a link from its customers. Tragically, as we have previously discussed in this blog pharmaceutical companies show time and time again that their bottom line is the bottom line and, the job of holding them accountable all too often falls from the FDA to vigilant consumers and the plaintiffs’ attorneys who represent them.


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