It was women journalists who filed many of the first hours of media reports on the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) study of menopausal hormone replacement and a doubled risk of breast cancer. The JAMA study used data from a 13,000-woman pool in the landmark Women’s Health Initiative of the 1990s to document the increased risk. In the major federally financed study, women taking hormones were compared with a group who took placebo substitutes.
The JAMA report showed a conclusive link between women taking hormones and an increased risk of developing invasive breast cancer and dying from it. Among the women who had breast cancer, those on hormones also had a higher death rate from other causes.
The New York Times relied on veteran medical journalist Denise Grady to report “Prempro Hormone Therapy Amplifies Breast Cancer Risks, Study Finds.” She cited somewhat differing emphases on the consequences from two of the study’s authors, Dr. Rowan T. Chlebowski, lead author of the JAMA report, and Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, co-author of the study and one of the principal investigators of the Women’s Health Initiative.
Lara Salahi covered the developing story for ABC News. Salahi began her report: “New evidence today adds to the belief that hormone replacement therapy may do more harm than good for many women after menopause, and it has many experts trying to figure out for which women the therapy is safe.”
Gwen Ifill of the PBS News Hour also presented the issue last night. She discussed differing perspectives on the risks with Dr. Rowan Chlebowski and Dr. Julie Gralow of The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Chlebowski, a medical oncologist from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, led the breast cancer study. He also confirmed a lung cancer risk from the same drug a year ago. You can see Ifill’s 9-minute video below, or read the transcript.
The Wall Street Journal’s Jennifer Corbett Dooren focused the need for women and their doctors to weigh the risks and benefits of hormones more carefully than in the past. The Journal headlined her report “Research Finds Hormone Therapy Speeds Up Breast-Tumor Growth.” She quoted study author Chlebowski as saying that “You can’t define a safe interval [of use].”
At Blooomberg BusinessWeek, HealthDay Reporter Amanda Gardner headlined her piece “Study Shows HRT Even Riskier Than Thought.” In a follow-up four hours later, Michelle Fay Cortez told an ironic tale for the same publication: “Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, yesterday won its sixth of 13 jury cases over Prempro’s health risks an hour before the [hormone therapy] research was reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association.” The irony was doubled by the unstated fact that Pfizer had just taken over the drug from its originator, Wyeth, in last year’s merger of the healthcare giants.
The Chicago Tribune posted a story by Shari Roan of the Los Angeles Times. The JAMA study was conducted by the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute. In her report, Roan focused on positive lymph nodes — an indication that the cancer has spread. She cited the view of Dr. Peter B. Bach of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, writer of an editorial accompanying the study: “The longer these women are followed, the more dangerous hormone replacement therapy is going to look.”
Elizabeth Cooney of The Boston Globe’s blog played the story less dramatically than many of the other writers. She cited study coauthor Dr. JoAnn Manson. Manson said the data suggest the hormonal culprit comes into effect only through cumulative long-term use. She also stated that “The bottom line of the report is that there was an increase in breast cancer mortality, but in absolute terms these findings should not be cause for alarm among women.” In absolute terms, the study indicated one to two additional breast cancer deaths per year per 10,000 women taking hormones.
Overseas, Sophie Borland began her report in the Daily Mail, “Fears over the safety of HRT have been reignited after scientists warned it could dramatically raise a woman’s risk of dying of breast cancer.” Borland’s piece noted that HRT could treble risk of dying of breast cancer.