Weighing Prempro’s risks, benefits

    Doctors say women should decide for themselves.

    Philadelphia juries recently awarded more than $100 million to two women who say their breast cancer was caused by the menopause drug Prempro. As those court decisions make headlines, a Philadelphia doctor urges women to weigh their own family health history to decide if hormone therapy is right for them.

    Listen: [audio:091127tehrtmeds.mp3]

    In 2002, a landmark study found that a drug combining estrogen and progesterone elevates breast cancer risks. Gynecologist Owen Montgomery wants patients to keep the study findings in perspective.

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    Montgomery: The risk of breast cancer for women who took sugar pills was 31 women in 10,000. That went up to 39 women in 10,000 if they took the Prempro. So I think that many of my patients say: ‘Well, gee that’s not a very big difference compared to what I expected based on all the publicity.’

    Montgomery leads the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Drexel University College of Medicine. He says he has no financial ties to the drug makers named in the Prempro lawsuits. He continues to prescribe hormone therapy and says it gives many women relief from hot flashes, night sweats and other symptoms that can accompany menopause.

    Montgomery urges caution in reacting to the court cases.

    Montgomery: If someone comes to their doctor and says: ‘I’ve seen articles about lawsuits.’ I don’t think that should — in and of itself — scare women away from using medication which may benefit them as an individual.

    Gynecologist Ann Honebrink is Medical Director of Penn Medicine for Women. She says hormone therapy can help women who suffer strong menopause symptoms.

    Honebrink: The thing that works the best, if we are just talking about making hot flashes, night sweats and all the stuff that accompanies them better, hormone replacement seems to be the most effective medication we have.

    Honebrink helps patients weigh their health goals against their family medical history. She says many women are willing to accept the elevated breast cancer risks.

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