Supplemental estrogen: Some docs say one thing but do another

Supplemental estrogen: Some docs say one thing but do another

A study out this week in the online journal PloS Medicine exposes what might be a common way drug companies try to influence doctors.

The authors, from Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., looked at articles about hormone-replacement therapy in post-menopausal women that were written by doctors with financial relationships with the manufacturers of those hormones. All of the articles were written after 2004, when a large and authoritative study concluded that supplemental estrogen increased the risk of breast cancer and had little benefit.

What they found makes me squirm. The physician authors were careful to make accurate scientific statements, but then tended to still cast doubt on the link between estrogen and breast cancer, and often ended up encouraging other doctors to ignore the science and prescribe hormones anyway.

Partly as a result, there is still considerable debate in some quarters of the medical community about the risks of hormone therapy in women, despite pretty convincing evidence that those risks are real and substantial. And, perhaps as a result, some women may still be treated with it when they shouldn’t be.

Bottom line: The influence game can be a subtle one. While the law may require a drug company to tell you the truth about scientific findings, it can’t stop opinions and endorsements that paint a different picture. So what can you do? Don’t trust advice on drugs from doctors who get money from drug companies. And don’t believe everything you read or see when it comes to drugs.

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