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Prempro Decision in Pennsylvania Not Expected to Affect Lawsuits Filed by Other Breast Cancer Victims

Dec 10, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

A judge who overturned a Prempro verdict said that he did so because the plaintiff in the case did not prove Wyeth, the maker of Prempro, acted negligently by failing to warn that the drug might cause breast cancer.  Despite the setback for this Prempro plaintiff, it is thought that the issues behind the Pennsylvania appeals court judge's decision to overturn a $3 million verdict against Wyeth are unique to this particular case.  For that reason, this Prempro decision should not affect the prospects of the thousands of other Prempro lawsuits awaiting trial across the country.

Prempro is a leading Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) drug that combines estrogen and progestin into one pill. It is prescribed to treat women experiencing menopausal symptoms that include mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and osteoporosis.  Prempro has been used for over 40 years, but in 2003, a large federal study linked HRT drugs like Prempro to an increased risk of breast cancer. Within months, millions of women stopped taking estrogen and progestin pills.  In 2007, a study by the National Cancer Institute found that breast cancer incidence rates in women in the United States fell 6.7 percent in 2003 from the previous year and have since stabilized.  Many experts attributed the drop in breast cancer rates to the fact that many women quit using HRTs once they were linked to breast cancer.

Jennie Nelson, 67, of Dayton, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 after taking Prempro for five years to treat symptoms of menopause. Her lawyers said Wyeth knew for decades the drug could cause breast cancer, but failed to warn patients.  Last February, a Pennsylvania jury agreed, and awarded Nelson $3 million.   But that verdict was overturned by Judge Ricardo C. Jackson, who said Nelson failed to prove that Prempro caused her cancer. She also failed to prove that her doctor relied on the information in Wyeth's warning label before prescribing it, he said.

Nelson's lawyer, who plans to appeal Judge Jackson's decision, told the Associated Press that Nelson's case should not have an impact on other Prempro lawsuits filed against Wyeth.   The issues Judge Jackson based his decision on were unique to the Nelson case.   The lawyer told the Associated Press that if Wyeth tried to contend that the findings in the Nelson case applied to other Prempro lawsuits, then, "they might as well agree to certify a class action."  Wyeth has fought to keep Prempro lawsuits from being granted class action status.

In addition to an increased risk of breast cancer, Prempro and other HRTs have been linked to additional serious side effects, including ovarian cancer, gallbladder cancer, lupus, scleroderma, stroke, blood clots, severe asthma, and pulmonary embolisms.  More than 5,000 women have sued Madison, N.J.-based Wyeth over side effects caused by its hormone drugs Prempro and Premarine.

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