Women arrive at Dr. Wendy Wolfman’s menopause clinic carrying bags filled with herbal remedies. Most of it, she said, “is just completely a waste of money.”
Some women are willing to try anything to deal with debilitating hot flashes, mood swings and other menopausal symptoms, she said.
Anything but hormones. “They’re afraid to take hormones because the publicity is they’re going to get [breast] cancer,” said Wolfman, director of the menopause unit at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada is urging Canadian women to rethink their aversion to hormone therapy. The doctors’ group says women have been needlessly frightened off a “safe and effective therapy” by reports implicating hormones in breast cancer.
In an article called “Misinformation. Misinterpretation. Missed opportunity,” posted on the gynecologists’ group’s web-site, executive vice-president Dr. Andre Lalonde says the organization has supported the breast-cancer cause “for years.”
“It is becoming increasingly clear that effective advocacy programs, combined with a media focus on breast cancer, has distorted women’s perception of their true risk for this disease” — to the point that “many distressed symptomatic menopausal women are being denied, or are choosing to avoid, a safe and effective therapy for which the overall benefits exceed the risk,” Lalonde said.
That has critics bristling.
“To call this increase in risk of breast cancer [with hormone therapy] a slightly increased risk, it seems to be a message to essentially say ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I was shocked by it,” said Dr. Barbara Mintzes, assistant professor in the department of anesthesiology, pharmacology and therapeutics at the University of B.C.
Prescriptions for hormones plummeted in the wake of the Women’s Health Initiative Trial, or WHI, one of the largest studies ever conducted in the U.S. The trial was prematurely halted in 2002 after researchers found an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and invasive breast cancer in women using an estrogen plus progestin formulation.
Lalonde said the increased risk was small, with eight extra cases of breast cancer among 10,000 women using combination hormone therapy.