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Hormones: Still Pushed by Pharma; Still Dangerous

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The medical press trumpeted again this month the shopworn pharma factoid that menopausal hormones may be good for you, not bad. This is at least the eighth time researchers have tried to resuscitate the therapy and its franchise profits since a government study linked it to cancer and heart disease in 2002.

The report stemmed from a poster Dr. Joseph Ragaz, clinical professor at the University of British Columbia, presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium this month.

The evidence that estrogen can protect against breast cancer has "been largely ignored" news reports quote Dr. Joseph Ragaz saying.

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Estrogen was once thought "the culprit in the elevated breast cancer risk seen among women" in the government-funded Women's Health Initiative, says a Medpage article.

That study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, was terminated in 2002 because the risks to women outweighed the benefits. Progestin with estrogen were linked to a 26 percent increase in breast cancer, 41 percent increase in strokes, 29 percent increase in heart attacks, 22 percent increase in cardiovascular disease and double the rate of blood clots.

Hormone therapy is also linked to lung, ovarian, breast and gall bladder cancer, melanoma and dementia in medical studies and journal articles. Over 5,000 women have brought suit over breast cancers they developed on the drugs.

But what Medpage does not mention is that progestin was added to estrogen because women taking estrogen alone developed endometrial cancer!

So many women developed endometrial cancer, the cancer rate actually dropped when they quit taking estrogen by itself, usually as the drug Premarin, in the 1980s.

Just like the breast cancer rate fell when women quit taking estrogen and progestin, usually as Prempro, in 2002.

Why are reports that a drug that causes endometrial cancer but may reduce breast cancer good news? Is the idea to switch cancers?

And why are Pfizer-linked researchers at major universities trying to bring back the lucrative franchise by testing cognitive and cardiovascular "benefits" in defiance of hormones' known heart and dementia side effects?

Does anyone need a second opinion?

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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