Public Release: 

Cancer link with hormone therapy known since 1930s, say researchers

[Hormone replacement therapy, cancer, controversies, and women's health: historical, epidemiological, biological, clinical, and advocacy perspectives J Epidemiol Community Health 2005; 59: 740-8]

BMJ Specialty Journals

The cancer causing potential of the sex hormones used in hormone therapy has been known since the 1930s, say researchers and women's health advocates in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

And questions about adverse effects on cardiovascular health have been raised since the 1970s, they add.

Yet the received wisdom is that these are new concerns, recognised only during the past few years, with the publication of large scale clinical trials providing new data on these issues.

Citing the research in support of their case, the group contends that the question that therefore needs to be answered is: "why decades of repeated warnings about the dangers of manipulating and prescribing hormones to "treat" menopause were ignored and not translated into health policies?

They suggest that the pharmaceutical industry, doctors, and researchers, effectively colluded to promote the view that menopause is a "deficiency disease" for which women needed long term treatment to stave off "illness, loss of sexuality and ugly aging."

And this occurred at time of growing aversion to risk and the promotion of "preventive medicine" in otherwise healthy people, using prescribed and powerful medications.

But other factors have also played their part, they say, including the failure of regulatory agencies to act and too much focus on individual risk rather than broader societal factors.

Hormones have also been "gendered," with treatments directed to women and their reproductive capacity, in a bid to regulate their sexuality, while men have been ignored, they add.

The group set out a list of proposals for socially responsible research. These include:

  • Greater transparency for the funding arrangements for research
  • A public register of protocols for all drug trials
  • The need to challenge the drug industry that it is acceptable to increase the risk of a disease in a healthy person by prescribing drugs to prevent future illness
  • The need to challenge the ideology that science can eliminate all health risks and that these can be measured


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