In her 2004 The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What To Do About It, Dr Marcia Angell writes at length about Big Pharma’s ingenious – and deadly – strategy of inventing fictitious illnesses to market highly profitable drugs that allegedly “treat” them. The technical term is “disease mongering” examples include “generalized anxiety disorder,” “erectile dysfunction,” “premenstrual dysphoric disorder,” and “gastro-esophogeal reflux disorder (heartburn).”
Estrogen Deficiency Syndrome
Based on 30 years of research linking it to reproductive cancers, the marketing of so-called “estrogen deficiency syndrome” has clearly been the most lethal. The condition is known as “menopause” in English-speaking countries. Other cultures have no word for it. The number of premature deaths from the so-called treatment – “hormone replacement therapy (HRT)” – is the millions.
In this case the culprit is a single company, Wyeth, which manufactures Premarin (conjugated estrogens extracted from pregnant mare urine) and Prempro, a combination of estrogen and and a second female hormone called progesterone.
From the beginning Wyeth marketed Premarin, not for temporary relief of menopausal symptoms, but as a lifelong treatment to help all women maintain “healthy” estrogen levels in later life. Obviously this is nonsense. A “healthy” or natural estrogen level in a post-menopausal woman is virtually zero.
Although the medical community (and Wyeth) have been aware of links between estrogen replacement and breast, uterine and ovarian cancer since the 1970s, this research was effectively covered up for more than three decades.
Until 2002, when the frightening results of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study hit the front page. Between 1993 and 1995, the National Institutes of Health enrolled 161,809 women in the double blind WHI study.
Although initially scheduled to finish in 2005, preliminary findings were so alarming*, the NHI ordered the study shut down immediately.
1975: the First Study Linking Premarin with Cancer
The first study linking Premarin with uterine cancer appeared in 1975. It was replicated by other researchers in 1977 and 1979. Wyeth responded to these worrisome studies by promoting a small 1980 study allegedly showing that taking progesterone, a second female hormone, reduced the risk of uterine cancer with estrogen replacement.
Sadly, most doctors fell for Wyeth’s slick PR campaign. Thanks to all the free pens, watches, clocks, lunches and trips to overseas conferences, they conveniently overlooked the failure of Wyeth’s 1980 study to report cancer rates in women who took no hormone replacement or to examine the role of combined treatment in inducing other hormone sensitive cancers, such as breast and ovarian cancer.
The Multibillion Dollar Wyeth Cover-up
The earliest studies linking Premarin with breast cancer appeared in early 1980. According to Nik Ismail in “Hormone Replacement Therapy and Gynaecological Cancers,” between 1975 and 1995, there were at least fifty studies linking estrogen replacement (also known as HRT) with breast and uterine cancer. Some were cross cultural studies revealing American women had more than ten times the incidence of breast cancer than Asian women, who don’t take estrogen replacement.
Wyeth responded to these reports with a massive PR blitz. In addition to flooding doctors’ offices with literature claiming studies linking Premarin to cancer were “contradictory,” they promoted numerous company-funded studies allegedly showing that estrogen replacement prevents osteoporosis and hip fractures, dementia and heart disease. The spin Wyeth gave doctors was that the effect of reducing cardiovascular disease (heart disease and strokes) – the most common cause of death in Americans – outweighed the somewhat lower risk of developing breast cancer.
The marketing blitz aimed at doctors was accompanied by an even more powerful PR campaign in Harper’s Bazaar, the Ladies Home Journal and other women’s magazines. The goal was to appeal to women’s (largely manufactured) terror of aging by recommending estrogen replacement to preserve sexual attractiveness – by reducing the skin changes associated with aging.
Premarin and Prempro Increase Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Ultimately Wyeth’s claim that Premarin and Prempro reduced cardiovascular disease proved to be a total fabrication. This was one of the main reasons the WHI study was stopped: the women in the Premarin/Prempro arm of the study were developing massively more heart attacks, strokes and dementia.
* The women taking HRT were experiencing a 26% increase in breast cancer (with the risk doubling after five years), a 41% increase in strokes and a 29% increase in heart disease.
To be continued.