watch out for estrogen
Kay Weiss is an environmental health
scientist. She publishes 15 different booklets on women's health topics. For a list
of booklet titles write to Kay Weiss,
1175 Westridge Dr., Portola Valley,
Since the introduction of synthetic
hormones 40 years ago, pharmaceutical
firms have devised numerous uses for them
and advertised them to physicians in medical journals. In this way, their use is directed in part by the economic motives of
a profit-making industry.
Hormone drug manufacture has
steadily increased so that today estrogens
are offered to virtually every U.S. woman
from puberty throughout life for any one
of dozens of uses.
Between 1962-1973 dollar sales of
estrogen quadrupled in the U.S. in spite of
the fact that the incidence of cancer of estrogen-dependent organs was observed to
be rising in association with estrogen use.
In 1975, 91 million estrogen prescriptions
were written for a female adult population
cf 60 million.
Historically, many of the decisions
about how hormones should be used were
based on assessments by one class (male
physicians) about the normality of another.
Emotional and physical "disorders" were
often defined into existence and fitted to
drugs that could "cure"them. Today estrogens are still used to alter female behavior,
both physical and psychological.
Many estrogen and progesterone hormone drugs have never been proven neces
sary, most have never been proven effective
and none have been proven safe. The latency period between the taking of these hormones and the development of cancer is
known to be as long as 20 years, yet the
Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approves hormone drugs which have been
"demonstrated" safe only by short-term
Current surveys show that a majority
of physicians prescribe estrogens to women
without adequately informing them of the
associated and proven diseases which may
result and without mentioning the risk of
cancer 10-20 years later. That physicians
themselves are uninformed of the association between estrogen and cancer is apparent, although studies pointing to an
association have appeared in medical
literature as early as the 1950s. Package
labeling continues to omit a statement that
estrogen can promote cancer in the user, or
that if a woman has latent breast or uterine
cancer (which can exist for six years prior
to detection), estrogen may promote its
growth. Yet it is known that about
225,000 American women presently have
undiscovered breast cancer.
Each year about 197,000 new cases
of cancer of the estrogen-dependent organs
are diagnosed in American women. Of
these, 88,000 are breast cancer, 27,000
uterine lining cancer, 20,000 cervical in
situ, 17,000 ovarian and 4,200 other genital organ cancer.
That estrogen plays a role in cellular proliferation of these target organs has
been known since the discovery of the
hormone. Well-controlled epidemiological
studies associating an increased incidence
of some of these cancers with estrogen use
are accruing at a rapid pace, but it has long
been known that estrogens are carcinogenic in laboratory animals.
The hazards of estrogen use are similar whether the estrogens are synthetic
or natural, steroidal or nonsteroidal. To
increase the body's estrogen level with
even small amounts of estrogen profoundly
affects the delicate hormonal balance
on which 50 metabolic systems depend.
The majority of estrogen prescriptions are written for healthy women for
non-medical purposes. Ten million U.S.
women take the oral contraceptive and
eight million prescriptions annually are
written to menopausal women for uses
classified as "probably effective" by the
About 40 million women have been
given the suspect DES to help their breast
milk dry up after childbirth, although the
process would occur without the aid of a
drug. Millions more take DES or other estrogens as a "morning-after pill" or to control real or perceived menstrual irregularities, or for cosmetic or quasi-medical
uses like treatment of acne, thinning hair
or premenstrual syndrome.
Most of these uses have never been
subjected to adequately controlled studies
to prove their effectiveness.
Cancer is not the only or even the
major effect of prescribed estrogens.
Stroke, heart attack, hypertension, thrombophlebitis, gall bladder disease, benign
liver tumors, birth defects and a host of
gynecological symptoms and metabolic di
seases have been demonstrated to be
caused by or associated with estrogen use.
FDA approval of drugs is contingent,
upon their manufacturer demonstrating
that the benefits of the drug outweigh
its risks to the consumer. That the pharmaceutical industry earns $120 million from
the manufacture of oral contraceptives may
make it difficult for industry scientists to
reach an objective assessment of their risks.
It will not be known whether the
oral contraceptive increases the frequency
of cancer until 20 years after marketing began. Recent studies, however, indicate that
sequential oral contraceptives and estrogen
replacement at menopause increase the risk
of developing cancer of the uterine lining,
cervix and breast.
Evidence that physicians are misusing
estrogens is available. In spite of studies
which proved that DES was ineffective as
an "anti-miscarriage" drug in the 1950s,
physicians continued to prescribe it for 20
years. And in spite of the 1971 FDA ban
on its use during pregnancy because of an
epidemic of vaginal cancer in daughters of
patients so treated, physicians continue to
write about 11,000 prescriptions a year for
D£S for "prenatal care."
It would be unwise to repeat the
tragic mistakes made with DES with other
estrogen drugs. That lesson calls for increased conservatism in the use of hormones and research into safer methods of
birth control. Public health measures such
as full disclosure of the possible side effects
of hormones and more stringent controls
on marketing and use by physicians are
There's sure to be plenty happening at the National Women's
Conference, and you're not going to want to miss any of it. But you
can't be everywhere at once. We can.
Sara irowrey, Maria Sanchez and Sharon Speer of KPRC-TV will
be on the floor every day. Then, they'll give you a complete look at
what's been happening every evening on our 6:00 P.M. newscast.
At 9:00 A.M. on Friday, November 18, we'll present a one-hour
special called "Are You Listening?" hosted by Martha Stuart.
Add to that the Big 2 News Conference, where we'll interview one
of the more important delegates, and you'll see Channel 2 is the best
place to get an overview of what's going on.
After the day's sessions, settle down for a while. Turn on 2. Watch
what happened. Then get ready for tomorrow.
WATCH SARA L0WREY, MARIA
SANCHEZ AND SHARON SPEER,
KPRC-TV NEWSPERSONS, WITH
FULL CONVENTION COVERAGE
ON BIG 2 NEWS AT 6.
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PAGE 10 NOVEMBER 20, 1977 DAILY BREAKTHROUGH