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Was Early Menopause Hormone More Pharma Spin?


At the 2009 American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Orlando, researchers announced that women who take hormone therapy (HT) are 60 percent more likely to die from lung cancer if they develop it.

But Wyeth's Joseph Camardo, MD didn't let the report curb his enthusiasm for the Prempro franchise. Or the report at a medical conference the previous year that HT doubles risk for breast cancer in five years and increases it in two.

Younger women between aged 51 to 54 are starting to use HT he told reporters and "the same risks may not apply with the new patterns of use!"


For over eight years, hormone makers have tried to revive HT sales which sank in 2002 with a "timing theory." Women shouldn't take less hormones says pharma, they should take more and they should start taking them earlier, goes the theory.

(In Chicago, the timing theory is called voting early and often.)

The women in the Women's Health Initiative who got 29 percent more breast cancer, 26 percent more heart disease, 41 percent more stroke and double the amount of blood clots on Prempro wouldn't have gotten the lethal quartet if they weren't so old, went the theory. Their average age was 63! If women start HT around 50, it well might well prevent heart disease and cognitive decline says the timing theory.

Of course you have to admire pharma's audacity. Despite the HT-caused endometrial cancer epidemic in the 1970s which fell when women quit Premarin, despite the HT-caused breast cancer epidemic which fell when women quit Prempro in 2002, they're sticking to their story gosh darnit. See R.J. Reynolds.

But the evidence for a "timing theory" was nothing more than some Godforsaken ovariectomized primates at Wake Forest and Mount Sinai medical schools behind three security doors, trials at major medical centers conducted by several Wyeth-linked researchers and pharma supplication to Wall Street.

This week new findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute show the "timing theory" is as ass backwards as the HT theory, which caused what it supposed to prevent, itself.

An analysis from England's National Health Service Million Woman Study found the women with the greatest risk of breast cancer from hormones are those who took them the earliest -- before or soon after menopause. In other words, women who observed the timing theory. Oops.

0.3 percent of women 50 to 59 who had never taken hormones developed breast cancer a year, 0.46 percent of women who started hormones five or more years after menopause and 0.61 percent of women who started hormone before or less than five years after menopause.

The risk was even increased when early starters used hormones for less than five years.

While the pharma timing theory has no doubt always been about timing of revenue, it enjoys wide press exposure. The Washington Post reprinted a pro-timing theory piece from the "news source" of Massachusetts General Hospital's website where it ran next to a Wyeth-linked doctor's article.

Now the timing theory looks as medically sound as telling people to start smoking earlier.


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

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