Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lawsuits Reveal Drug Companies Knew Hormone Replacement Therapy Could Cause Cancer; Ignored the Risks

Pfizer Inc. and other drug companies are now losing lawsuits left and right over their hormone replacement therapy drugs, which have been demonstrated to vastly increase the risk of breast cancer in women using the drugs.

Back in 2000, we had a near-miss with hormone replacement therapy drugs, when I took my wife Kathy to our local family doctor to see about getting her an MRI for her frozen shoulder.

Kathy detailed the pain she was experiencing in her left shoulder, and the various treatments she had received at the hands of chiropractors and physical therapists, all to no avail. And she explained that the most recent physical therapist she had seen asked her to get a referral from her family doctor to have an MRI of the shoulder done in order to check for bone spurs or other problems.

The doctor said she'd consider writing out a referral for the MRI, but only if Kathy would submit to some blood tests to "rule out other female issues" first. So, wanting to be cooperative, she agreed.

When the blood test results came back several weeks later, the doctor told Kathy she needed hormone replacement drug therapy, and recommended Prempro, the drug described in the news article below as one causing cancer in up to 200,000 women.

Fortunately, while traveling by airline on a business trip several months earlier, I had read a report by Dr. John Lee, MD, author of the many "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About..." books, including What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer.

The Evidence Against Hormone Replacement
Therapy Had Been Known for Years

Dr. Lee had warned in his report that preliminary evidence showed prescription hormone replacement therapy drugs were causing aggressive forms of breast cancer in women who used them. And he stated that in spite of the preliminary data, the drug companies were defending these drugs and the FDA was doing nothing to protect the women using them.

I had already showed the report to my wife, so she was quite knowledgeable about the findings and Dr. Lee's warnings. So we told her doctor about our concerns over the use of prescription hormone replacement drug therapy, considering the information in the report we had read.

Doctors Continued to Recommend
Hormone Replacement Drug Therapy In Spite of the Risks

The doctor was incredulous, ridiculing the idea that prescription hormone replacement drug therapy could possibly cause breast cancer. "Those preliminary studies don't prove anything," she claimed. "Millions of women are safely taking hormone replacement therapy. It's one of the safest drug therapies in the world."

We complained to the doctor that we had originally come in just to get a referral to have an MRI done on a frozen shoulder, and instead of helping take care of the shoulder, the doctor was taking us down an unrelated rabbit hole, for no good reason.

But the doctor was both indignant and insistant, claiming that women with low hormone levels displayed all kinds of symptoms, including pain and stiffness in the joints, and that these symtoms were often miraculously relieved once hormone replacement therapy drugs were started.

Scare Tactics Used by Doctors
to Push Hormone Replacement Therapy

The doctor then went on to claim that if Kathy didn't start using the prescription hormone replacement therapy drugs at that time, within five years or so she would start becoming hunchback and bent over like an old woman, and that the spinal degeneration would be swift and unrelenting, resulting in premature aging and disease, mood swings, osteoporosis, broken bones and more.

Kathy and I left the doctor's office disappointed and disgusted at the blatant attempt to use scare tactics to frighten her into submitting to prescription hormone replacement drug therapy.

She was later able to completely resolve her long-standing frozen shoulder through a series of acupuncture treatments. As for women's health issues such as hot flashes and fatigue, Kathy has used a wonderful over-the-counter nutritional supplement called pregnenolone from time to time, which has proven to be extremely beneficial. But she has never taken hormone replacement therapy. And guess what? It's now nine years later. And Kathy has had absolutely ZERO of the health problems her doctor tried to frighten her with in that vain attempt to convince her to go on prescription hormone replacement therapy drugs.

The kicker to all of this? Several years later, after more data had come out regarding the strong propensity of hormone replacement therapy to cause aggressive breast cancers in women using it, we saw that same doctor. And I asked, "Hey, you still want Kathy to start taking hormone replacement therapy?" The doctor glared at me dead in the eyes with a deadpan stare, and stated tersely, "We never recommend that course of treatment. We've found that it can cause cancer in some women."

Unbelievable Gall

I couldn't help wonder how many of that doctor's patients fell for her scare tactics over the years, and submitted to risky hormone replacement therapy, thinking that if they didn't do as their doctor said their lives and their health would fall apart. And I also couldn't help wonder how many of that doctor's patients ended up years later coming down with breast cancer.

Yes, the doctor had apparently finally quit recommending prescription hormone replacement therapy drugs. But she had done so only after thousands of women nationwide using the therapy became afflicted with breast cancer from it, and many died. In other words, only when it became a costly legal issue did the doctors finally quit pushing the stuff. Then, you couldn't get one to admit they had ever recommended it!

It Pays to Be Knoweldgeable

It pays to be knowledgeable about drug company malfeasance. And I'm certainly grateful for the work of honest and dedicated doctor's like Dr. John Lee, MD, and many others, who sounded the alarm regarding the proven dangers hormone replacement therapy drugs long before the medical establishment finally admitted to those dangers.

For me, the most interesting thing about the article below is that juries are now awarding huge judgements to women who ended up with breast cancer after taking these drugs, not so much because of the cancer, but because of the fact that the drug companies knew about it in advance, and "hid and ignored evidence of the drug's potential cancer risk."

I'm glad my wife didn't end up as one of these victims.

Lessons Learned

What we learned from this incident is to never, ever, ever allow a doctor to use scare tactics to steam-roller you into taking anything. Doctors are not infallible. They frequently operate in a state of denial. And they're frequently under the spell of the big drug companies, in many cases receiving awards like vacations and cars for dispensing drugs.

So when your doctor recommends a course of treatment, check everything out carefully first. No matter how "safe" your doctor may claim a drug to be, do your research before committing to a new drug regimen. And if your doctor uses scare tactics to try to frighten you into accepting his or her recommend therapy without looking into it...get a new doctor.

Here's the article about the Pfizer lawsuits over their Prempro hormone replacement therapy drug:

Pfizer Inc. (PFE) sure is no stranger to finding itself in court. The pharmaceutical giant is constantly defending its practices and drugs, often ending up paying millions if not billions in damages -- even admitting to felony criminal charges.

Pfizer has also inherited lawsuits with some of the companies it has purchased. It's recent $68 billion mega acquisition of Wyeth is no different. On Monday, a Philadelphia jury, which had earlier found a link between a woman's breast cancer and the hormone-replacement drug she was taking, also found that Wyeth hid and ignored evidence of the drug's potential cancer risk. The jury awarded Connie Barton an undisclosed amount of punitive-damages.

Barton's case is one of 9,000 Prempro lawsuits across the country. About 1,500 are pending in Philadelphia alone, opening up the door to more potential liabilities for Pfizer, which just recently was ordered to pay a record $2.3 billion fine for illegally marketing painkiller Bextra, which is now off the market.

The drug, Prempro, from Pfizer's unit Wyeth, is a combination of hormones estrogen-progestin (Premarin and Provera) and is taken as a menopause treatment.

Barton took Prempro for five years before she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2002.

Wyeth's lawyer George McDavid had argued that Barton had breast cancer before she began taking Prempro. The jury was not convinced and found that Prempro caused Barton's breast cancer. She was awarded $3.75 million in compensatory damages in September. The punitive award was sealed pending another verdict in a second Prempro case in the same courthouse.

Once again, this case highlights the reasons for the public's longstanding distrust and mistrust of pharmaceutical companies.

The AP reports that Esther Berezofsky, one of Barton's lawyers said, "They knew back in the 1970s that these drugs had the potential to cause breast cancer, so they didn't have the studies done." Wyeth, the lawyer added, consistently downplayed bad results.

Only on Monday, Booster Shots reported that a new study by French researchers examined how clinical trials are being reported in medical journals. They found that even though "The reporting of harm is as important as the reporting of efficacy [...] harm is frequently insufficiently reported." Often hard data is not being provided in the publications, and when it is, it is often distorted.

It is interesting that in the editorial to this study, Dr. John Ioannidis of the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece, attributed some of the under-reporting to companies intent on "silencing the evidence." He singled out Merck's (MRK) Vioxx -- the painkiller that doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke, and Pfizer's Neurontin -- an epilepsy drug that the FDA linked to an 80 percent increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior. "In these cases," Dr. Ioannidis wrote, "marketing needs prevail over scientific accuracy and clinical prudence."

During its court case, Wyeth, told jurors that women are now fully informed of the risks and benefits of Prempro. Further, in arguing against the punitive damages, a lawyer, on behalf of Wyeth, said the drug maker changed its practices and policies such as letting its consultants ghostwrite medical journal articles, promoting off-label drug use and giving gifts to doctors. Attempts to reach the company were not immediately answered.

Sales of the drug have plummeted since 2002 when a large federal health study, the Women's Health Initiative, linked the therapy to breast cancer and cardiovascular risks. The study was stopped as a result. Another study this year also showed that lung cancer seems more likely to prove fatal in women who are taking the combination drug.

Berezofsky claims that 200,000 women who got breast cancer could have avoided it had they not taken Prempro. However, Prempro and the combination hormones remain on the market. More than six million women have taken hormone-replacement medicines to treat menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings.

So far, Wyeth has lost five of eight trials regarding this matter since 2006. All cases are on appeal. In cases in Arkansas and Nevada, some damages were set aside or reduced.

1 comment:

  1. My mother died in 1992 from complications of Osteoporosis and Emphesema. She was taking Premarin, another hormone-replacement medicine which is 1/2 of Prempro's formula. In my opinion, that medicine helped to break down her bones instead of preventing them from breaking down. My doctor,who was also my mother's doctor, feels that I may have osteoporosis and has recommended a Dexi Scan. I can almost guarantee that, if I were willing to take that test, that it would say that I have the disease. I'm also sure the doctor would recommend a hormone-replacement medicine. I saw what my mother went through, and, I have no intention of using this drug or any other such drug.

    Your wife is truely blessed not to have fallen for the scare tactics.