cartoon from the summer of 2002 shows a TV announcer leading a newscast with:
"A major US drug maker is warning women if they stop hormone therapy
abruptly, its stock price will fall."
Wyeth, maker of
Prempro and Premarin, has indeed seen its stock price fall since the news from
a study presented at a breast cancer conference in San Antonio in December
broke that breast cancer fell 7 percent from 2002 to 2003 and estrogen positive
breast cancer, 15 percent, presumably because women went off HRT (hormone
And just as the
initial Women's Health Initiative HRT findings drew a chorus of "yes
buts" from those financially linked to HRT -- the women in the study were
"too old," took HRT too long, should have taken only one hormone,
shouldn't have had heart disease -- already spins and denials are coming out.
Maybe the number of
breast cancers hasn't dropped at all, opined experts quoted by the ABC News
Medical Unit, but mammograms have dropped. (Or the population dropped 15
percent -- did they think of that?)
hormones couldn't produce a decrease in breast cancer that quickly, say other
sources, though estrogen-fueled cancers can indeed regress, not form at all or
not become mammogram detectable in three years, says New York Times science
reporter Gina Kolata.
Others are ranting
that news like this could scare women away from legitimate HRT uses. Many have
just returned from the FDA hearings on antidepressant warnings where they said
the same thing.
loyalists have more than the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center study which broke the
news to refute. A November study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found an
even larger drop in breast cancer rates in California where there was also a
larger drop in HRT use.
at the Northern California Cancer Center found breast cancer down 11 percent in
2004, using data from a National Cancer Institute program and from Kaiser
Despite the fact
that HRT was found in 2002 to cause a 26 percent increased risk of breast
cancer, 29 percent increased risk of heart attack, 41 percent increased risk of
stroke, and 100 percent increased risk of blood clots, Wyeth continues to
market Prempro and Premarin. Especially because it faces 3,600 legal cases,
withdrawing or discontinuing the drugs would be an admission of guilt.
Not that they don't
already look complicit.
Testimony in an
Arkansas breast cancer trial this year revealed that a Wyeth salesman wrote
company executives in 2000, "The desire for increased sales has overruled
our company's ethical responsibility to promote our products safely." He
also testified that Wyeth Chairman and CEO Robert Essner told his reps at a
Prempro launch party the company was creating an "HRT revolution"
that would keep women on the drug from menopause to death and that there should
be "no boundaries, no limits to your selling effort."
But the latest news
makes it even tougher for Wyeth to plead ignorance. With 14,000 women who were
expected to get breast cancer NOT GETTING IT as analysts now claim, quitting
HRT practically looks like the cure.
what possible warning label could you put on a drug that is apparently so
deadly and works so fast, anyway? That if you go off it, the manufacturer's
stock price will fall?
Rosenberg is a Staff Cartoonist at the Evanston Roundtable. Her work has
appeared in the Chicago Tribune, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston
Globe, Providence Journal. Arizona Republic, New Orleans Times-Picayune and
other newspapers. She can be reached at: email@example.com.