Hormone Therapy and Prempro: Two Women's Accounts

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Clinton Township, MIDebbie was prescribed Prempro for post-menopausal symptoms and hormone therapy 12 years ago. Her endocrinologist warned her to discontinue taking it "because it causes breast cancer." Joyce from Savannah, GA wants to tell all women to "quit Prempro now". Tragically the warnings came too late and both women now have breast cancer.

Breast CancerWhen she was warned about Prempro, Debbie asked her gynecologist if she should stop taking it. "He showed me some research and said that only a small amount of women taking Prempro have developed breast cancer and he acted like it was no big deal," she says. But it was a big deal to many women. Debbie tried to wean herself off Prempro but it wasn't easy. "Whenever I quit taking it, I got really bad hot flashes," she says," but two years ago, I finally stopped.

"Last July I had a suspicious-looking mammogram on my right breast and had a biopsy. It was found to be invasive cancer so I had a lumpectomy and at the same time they also found cancer in one of my lymph nodes so 19 of my lymph nodes were also removed.

After that, my oncologist advised me to take chemo then radiation. So far I've had 3 chemo treatments and the first two affected my heart. There is an ejection fraction and within two treatments mine went from 50 to 30--one of the drugs I was given is known to affect the heart. I was sent to a cardiologist and I stopped this drug but they don't know if I will ever regain the strength in my heart—this cancer drug that is causing my heart to weaken apparently doesn't show effects for years down the road so I am concerned about my future health. And I have 5 more chemo treatments scheduled and about 30 to 35 radiation treatments to look forward to.

Today I feel OK but a week ago I had my 3rd chemo; last Thursday I was so sick and vomiting that I was admitted to hospital and just got home Monday night. I started seeing my primary care doctor for pap tests and mentioned Prempro to her; she agreed that I should stay off it. As well, my oncologist said Prempro could very well have caused my breast cancer, or at the very least contributed to it.

At first, I thought Prempro was a miracle drug and had no idea that once I stopped taking it, the hot flashes would return. But they eventually stopped. It makes me furious that I took this drug when these side effects were known. I would advise women to throw out this drug right away and go cold turkey. Hot flashes are a whole lot easier to deal with.

I am only 54 and had to take a leave of absence from work—I've been a teacher for over 30 years. I've had a lot of obstacles in my life but Prempro is the biggest challenge."

Savannah, GA: Joyce took Prempro from 2000 to 2002 and right after she quit, a large cyst the size of a grapefruit was found on her ovary and she had a complete hysterectomy. Two years later, she had an abscessed gall bladder. That is when she found out (through researching online) that 80 percent of women who took Prempro had hysterectomies and would lose their gallbladders. "I thought that was very interesting," she says...

"When I found out I had breast cancer (I thought this would never happen because there is no breast cancer in my family) I was shocked," says Joyce. "Even my doctor who did the biopsy didn't think it was cancer but sure enough, it turned out to be invasive HER2 positive, meaning I am 98 percent positive for estrogen and prednisone hormones that was feeding the cancer. For the next 5 years I have to take drugs to get these hormones out of my body. I am scheduled for a double mastectomy October 30th and reconstructive surgery.

There is a positive note: I don't have it anywhere else in my body, not even my lymph nodes. I got lucky, it could have been a lot worse. I am grateful for that but the makers of Prempro should be buried! Every woman I have talked with lately is either a survivor of breast cancer or has a family member or friend who has breast cancer. Most of them took Prempro—that is the first thing I ask them. Most of them I speak with are my age—around 57—and have gone through menopause. I was put on Prempro mostly because my doctor wanted to make sure I had the right hormones (because of my hysterectomy) and I guess he thought it would help with hot flashes, but when I stopped taking Prempro I just took magnesium and zinc and never suffered from hot flashes.

I just wish I had known about these natural remedies instead of being talked into taking hormone therapy. Makers of these drugs just push them on doctors and don't check them and when they find a problem, there is usually a cover-up; I believe Prempro was covered up. I think the manufacturers should do serious jail time! And I don't think the FDA does enough research: instead, drug companies make profits and innocent people die. I was lucky my cancer was caught in time and it is the type that doesn't move around—I just need the anti-hormone treatment and I should be free and clear, but I have to take this treatment for 5 years. It seems like nobody who took hormone therapy such as Prempro gets out easy."

In 2003, the FDA issued a black box warning to be included on the labeling of Prempro. It states that because the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study reported an " increased risk of...invasive breast cancer, estrogens and estrogens plus progestin therapies should be prescribed for the shortest duration consistent with treatment goals." That warning came too late for Debbie and Joyce and countless other women who have, or had breast cancer. Many women have died.

In March, 2008, a Little Rock jury determined that Prempro, along with medications Premarin and Provera, helped to cause breast cancer in an Arkansas woman. Wyeth, the manufacturer, was ordered to pay more than $19 million in compensatory and punitive damages as a result. One month earlier, a Nevada court awarded $58 million in damages to three women with breast cancer who had taken Wyeth's hormone therapy drugs.

Despite these lawsuits-- and more on the way-- Wyeth has still not recalled Prempro.

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