Health News

Estrogen's Risk is Real

(The Associated Press) Washington, --While stressing the value of estrogen treatments for women, a government scientific advisory panel recommended that the chemical be added to the nation's list of cancer-causing agents. Maybe, one scientist said, this step will encourage doctors to talk with their patients about both its risks and benefits.

"Physicians never discuss any of these risks when they are prescribing hormone therapy," Michelle Medinsky, a toxicologist from Durhamn, N.C. told the National Toxicology advisory committee. "Listing might force it on the table."

The committee, while expressing concerns that associating estrogen with cancer would overshadow the hormone's usefulness, nevertheless voted 8-1 to recommend the listing. There was no suggestion that estrogen use be restricted or banned.

An estimated 16 million postmenopausal women take horomone therapy, estrogen or estrogen combined with progestin, to reduce symptoms of menopause. Millions of other women use birth control pills. The amount of estrogen in those pills has dropped dramatically in recent years.

The advisor panel acted after looking at studies showing that estrogen is associated with an increase of endometrial cancer and, to a lesser extent, breast cancer.

Doctors already know about the cancer link. That's the reason postmenopausal estrogen is given together with another hormone, called progestin: the combination lowers the risk of endometrial cancer.

Panel member Sheila H. Zahm orf the National Cancer Institute noted that the institute's researchers, in a paper published in January, had found a slight increase in breast cancer in women treated with the estrogen-progestin combination.

Hiroshi Yamasaki of Kwsansei Gakuin University in Japan told the panel he was "uneasy"  with assigning estrogen to the cancer list, noting the hormone's value also needs to be stressed.

"Your reservations are shared by us all," said committee chairman Clay Frederic, a toxicologist, with Rohm and Haas Co. in Spring House, Pa.

The committee advises the toxicology program, a branch of the National Institutes of Health that every two years updates the federal list of proven and suspected cancer-causing sbstances.

The panel voted unanamiously to recommend adding wood-dust to the cancer list. It has been associated with cancer of the nose and sinuses in workers in frniture factories and cabinet-making shops.

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