Yes, the hormone therapies prescribed for women in perimenopause and beyond have already been suspect. Especially after the initial Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) trial results in 2002 (but even before that), researchers documented the health risks associated with the use of hormones during menopause, especially combination hormone therapies (therapies including estrogen plus progesterone, such as Prempro). SMCR’s Jerilynn Prior has done plenty of work on this as has SMCR’s Paula Derry, and WHI researchers and spokespeople have had to come out about many of the health risks as well. Now, this week, we find out that not only is there an increased risk of breast cancer for women who use these hormone therapies but that, according to a New York Times article published on Tuesday, “Women who took hormones and developed breast cancer were more likely to have cancerous lymph nodes, a sign of more advanced disease, and were more likely to die from the disease than were breast cancer patients who had never taken hormones.” According to this New York Times article, this report is the first to reveal WHI death rates.
After the dust settled from the original WHI reports about the risks of hormone therapies, researchers and doctors often made claims that it was still okay for women to be on hormone therapies for an extended period of time. Instances of death (instead of just disease/illness) are now causing some researchers and doctors to come forward and say that it is no longer safe for women to be on hormone therapies for this amount of time. Dr. Chleblowski, an author of the latest study about women’s mortality, is quoted in the New York Times article as saying that women should not stay on Prempro for more than a year or two.
Bottom line, these drugs are dangerous for women. The older we get, the more we realize that illness, disease, and death are a normal part of life. I find myself realizing this more and more each day as I watch people around me get sick, die, or have to deal with the loss of loved ones. But illness, disease, and death caused by prescriptions and indirectly by doctor’s care (what is often termed iatrogenic illness or death) is just not okay – especially when more caution could be used. Sure, it’s happened all throughout history. Plenty of people died so we could have Aspirin, Viagra, epidurals, Coumadin, birth control pills, safe abortions, hysterectomies, and pacemakers, just to name a few. But, as a doctor quoted in the New York Times article says, “The fallback is that doctors and patients should be deciding this on a one-to-one basis, weighing risks and benefits,” [but] “How do you do that when you don’t know what the risks are?”
We know that doctors are left in a precarious position, as are female patients, as they contemplate the use of hormone therapies….but what these articles and reports aren’t saying outright is that it is probably better NOT to use these drugs unless we absolutely have to. I was listening to Detroit’s NPR station driving home from work yesterday and heard even Dr. Susan Hendrix, a Detroit-based WHI researcher and doctor say, “maybe we can now just laugh at hot flashes,” instead of rely on combination hormone therapies to help us. At least that’s what she was inferring. We don’t completely understand all of the risks of combination hormone therapies but we know they include possible cancer and death, and delayed diagnosis of cancer as well (which means further death). Since yesterday was “Love Your Body Day,” I think perhaps we need to love our bodies more by remembering that some of the signs and symptoms we experience (such as hot flashes and irregular bleeding in menopause, no matter how hard to deal with) are not life-threatening, are completely normal, and can be dealt with without drugs — because the alternative is not so benign. Why should women continue to worry about whether they’ll die by Prempro? It seems WHI results are beginning to get even clearer, and I’ll be interested to see whether rates of prescription decrease after this last report. I also wonder what the makers of Hot Flash Havoc might think of this.