This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, take the hurt out of HRT

By Michelle Kretzer

Unless you’ve been studying penguins in Antarctica for the last few days, you’ve probably been bombarded by fluffy pink displays reminding you to buy up fluffy pink tchotchkes for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But unless you’ve been studying them for the last few decades with no access to the Internet, you’re probably already aware of breast cancer. (And I’m sure that by now, even Antarctica is in possession of a pink doodad or two.)

As Breast Cancer Action asserted in its exposé of pinkwashing, “[I]f shopping could cure breast cancer, it would be cured by now.” Instead of spreading awareness of pink flip-flops, we should be spreading awareness of breast cancer risk factors and how to reduce them. But, unfortunately, prevention strategies don’t get enough attention.

Case in point: A just-released study about breast cancer and hormone replacement therapy (HRT)—the largest such study ever conducted—got appallingly little news coverage, even though researchers found that taking a combined progestogen and estrogen HRT pill tripled a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

The Institute of Cancer Research and Breast Cancer Now studied 100,000 women over 40 and concluded that those who took a combined estrogen and progestogen pill such as Prempro for approximately five years were 2.7 times as likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer as women who didn’t. Women who took the combined pill for 15 years or more increased their risk by 3.3 times. Fortunately, the risk began to fall once they stopped taking the pills.

We already know that Prempro’s sister drug, Premarin, is scary stuff. Researchers have linked its use to an increased risk of dementia, stroke and heart attack. Many women and physicians have shunned both drugs.

And there’s another reason why Premarin and Prempro will never occupy my medicine cabinet. Growing up in horse country, as I did in Kentucky, you develop a strong appreciation for these beautiful, intelligent, sensitive animals—a feeling that the manufacturers of Premarin and Prempro clearly don’t share.

Both drugs are made from pregnant mares’ urine. To obtain it, mares are repeatedly impregnated and then forced to wear rubber urine-collection bags at all times, which causes lesions on their skin. They’re confined to stalls so small that they can’t turn around or take more than a single step in any direction—and they’re denied sufficient drinking water so that their urine will yield more concentrated estrogen.

Some of the thousands of foals born on these farms each year are used to replace their exhausted mothers. Some are offered for adoption. The remaining foals are sold at auction, along with mares whose bodies are exhausted from the constant cycle of pregnancy and birth in abusive living conditions. Most are purchased for slaughter.

With my family history of breast cancer, I want to do everything I can to combat the disease, but I won’t be spending any money on pink-ribbon products or on dangerous, urine-derived drugs like Premarin or Prempro. When I hit menopause, I’ll feel confident asking my doctor about alternatives, such as HRTs made from plant-derived phytoestrogens.

Women deserve better than token pinkwashed “awareness” products, and we all deserve better than dangerous drugs that harm both animals and our health.