It was as far back as 2002 that the link between breast cancer and HRT was first reported and the drug companies have been fighting a fierce rearguard campaign ever since. It was the Women’s Health Initiative study that came to this conclusion after a massive, long term research project and triggered around 8,000 lawsuits in the US.
Now in a record breaking judgement by a Philadelphia state-court jury, Wyeth, a division of Pfizer, was ordered to pay $6 million in punitive damages to Audrey Singleton, a retired school bus driver from Alabama, who developed breast cancer after taking the company’s menopause drugs. The award included $3.45 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages awarded to punish the company for their conduct. Audrey Singleton alleged that Wyeth knew about the risk of breast cancer from Prempro and failed to warn the public about the risk of the drug.
The jury made this award on the basis that the company failed to warn about the risks of the drug and took only minutes to come to their decision. Audrey Singleton began taking Prempro in August 1997 and a mammogram taken at that time was normal, but in January 2004 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and stopped taking the drug. Until 1995, many patients combined Premarin, Wyeth’s estrogen-based drug, with Provera which is high in progestins – synthetic progesterone – and Wyeth combined the two hormones in Prempro.
Despite being diagnosed, her physician suggested she stay on the medicine – which Pfizer seem to think lets them off the hook – but this verdict is Wyeth’s seventh loss in ten cases to have gone before juries and the fifth in a row over the drug. All of the lawsuits focused on allegations that the drug company’s failure to warn consumers and the medical community about the risk of Prempro’s side effects caused them to develop invasive breast cancer.
The company’s attorneys are still continuing to appeal the verdict, as they have in the previous cases, but there can now be no woman who is unaware of the potentially fatal link between HRT drugs and breast cancer.