A woman on Tuesday was taking on one of the world's largest drug companies, claiming its
medicine triggered her breast cancer.
Mary Ann Downing is one of thousands of women who say hormone replacement therapy caused their
breast cancer, 10TV's Andrea Cambern reported.
In 2002 the Food and Drug Administration took the rare step of stopping a large study of hormone
replacement drugs before it was complete.
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The Women's Health Initiative was being conducted by the National Institutes of Health, Cambern
"The decision to stop early was made because there was an increased risk of breast cancer," said
Dr. Jacques Rossouw, with the Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. There was a 26 percent increase in
the treatment group versus the placebo group. Plus there was no evidence of overall benefit."
Riverside Methodist Hospital Gynecologist Kathleen Lutter said for decades, doctors prescribed
the drugs Premarin and Prempro to fight the symptoms of menopause.
"We thought that it was a panacea. It was a gift that every woman should have," Lutter said.
"And if she went on it, it would be something we probably would keep her on for life."
After the announcement in 2002 concerning the link, millions of women stopped taking hormone
replacement therapy, and breast cancer rates declined, Cambern reported.
A recent study from Harvard University found that the drop may be linked to fewer women using
Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, which bought the pill maker, Wyeth, is facing thousands of lawsuits from
people like Downing, who used hormone replacement therapy for years.
Downing was on the drugs for 15 years.
"I developed breast cancer and that was when I quit taking it," Downing said.
The grandmother, a former fitness instructor, found a cancerous lump.
"Two weeks after that, I had a mastectomy, because they needed to take all of it," Downing
Downing discovered her cancer nine years ago, and in January it was found in her other
She underwent another mastectomy and hired attorney Anne Valentine to file a lawsuit against the
drug maker, Cambern reported.
"Women have had profound impacts on their lives," Valentine said. "Some have died. Some have
been unable to work. Some have had their families disrupted, unable to pay their bills."
Valentine said there are about 100 other similar lawsuits in Ohio.
She said the company made mistakes.
"You failed to do the studies," Valentine said. "You failed to provide appropriate warnings.
You failed to educate the physicians who are giving out your medicines."
Pfizer spokesman Christopher Loder, said that is not true, and the drug maker performed 180
studies, including 19 that focused on the risk of breast cancer.
"The medicines are safe and effective, and the benefits outweigh the risks," Loder said.
Pfizer has won 25 similar lawsuits and lost only four, Loder said.
Those lost included awards to plaintiffs that totaled more than $100 million, Cambern
Many of the cases are being appealed and Lutter said the issue is complex.
"Breast cancer takes such a long time to develop and there are so many additive factors other
than hormone therapy," Lutter said.
Doctors still prescribe the drugs for menopause symptoms, but they are prescribed at a lower
dosage and for a shorter time, Cambern reported.
Downing is convinced that they triggered her cancer, so she has a larger goal in mind.
"To help other women not to just jump into that without being fully aware of what's going on,"
There are more than 7,000 similar lawsuits pending in the U.S.
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