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Women File Suit Over Hormone Drug

Jun 10, 2003 | Houston Chronicle Former Houston City Councilwoman Jean Kelly began taking hormone replacement therapy in 1981, a choice she bitterly regrets.

Kelly, 71, is convinced that the hormone drugs she took to soften the effects of menopause spawned cancer in her breasts. A surgeon removed her breasts a year ago to keep the cancer from spreading.

"I'm just angry because I think I've been a gullible victim to these gigantic, legal drug sales," she said.

Kelly and 16 other women who took Premarin, an estrogen replacement drug, have filed suit in Harris County following a national study a year ago showing another Wyeth Pharmaceuticals hormone product, Prempro, increased the risk of breast cancer and stroke in women. A study released in May showed Prempro doubled the risk of dementia.

Attorneys are responding to the fears of women like Kelly, who linked their health problems to Premarin -an estrogen-only drug for which testing is incomplete after the bad news about Prempro, a combination of estrogen and progestin. The lawsuit in Harris County is one of several hundred filed in Texas.

Despite the increased health risks, revealed in the studies, for millions of women taking hormone replacement therapy, many experienced lawyers doubt that Kelly's lawsuit and others like it will become the next national legal offensive over women's health.

Exactly how many law firms are handling hormone replacement cases or how many have been filed is unclear; no state or national body keeps track.

The suit filed on behalf of Kelly alleges that Wyeth knew or should have known that Premarin posed a cancer risk but continued to market it as a "fountain-of-youth drug."

Wyeth spokesman Doug Petkus declined to comment, but the company's Web site says women have used Premarin to alleviate symptoms of menopause, such as night sweats and hot flashes, for 60 years and that 8 million women are now using the drug.

Although Premarin is the oldest hormone replacement therapy drug, a Women's Health Initiative study of its risks and benefits is still under way and results have yet to be released, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

The study, which included more than 16,000 women, was the largest and most thorough ever attempted, said Judith Salerno, a scientist at the National Institute on Aging.

A review during the study found an unacceptable increase in the risk for cancer and stroke for women taking a combination of estrogen and progestin.

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