A weekly look at menopause and related issues in the news …

From the L.A. Times: “Patient treatment records from a large HMO show that the recent decline
in breast cancer rates is linked to a sharp drop in use of hormone
replacement therapy
and not to reductions in the percentage of women
getting mammograms, as many scientists had speculated, researchers said
Tuesday.” Those findings, by  Dr. Andrew G. Glass and his colleagues at Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Portland, Ore., are published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The L.A. Times also has a very interesting story on potential alternatives to hormone therapy that can be used to treat hot flashes while presenting fewer risks. “[Researchers] have identified
some possible candidates — drugs such as the antidepressant
venlafaxine, the steroid tibolone and the anticonvulsant gabapentin —
and trials are underway to evaluate some of them,” writes Chandra Shekhar. “At the same time,
scientists are gaining a better understanding of what actually causes
hot flashes.”

Wyeth failed to get approval for its experimental drug for hot flashes, Pristiq, this week. The FDA wants Wyeth to address concerns about Pristiq’s potential to cause serious heart and liver problems, reports Reuters. A new clinical trial testing the drug’s safety in post-menopausal women could take up to one year or longer to complete. A Wyeth executive referred to the side effects as “part of our package.”

Smoking could lead to early menopause, according to a study by Norwegian researchers (also reported by Reuters). The study of 2,123 women age 59 to 60 years old found
those who currently smoked were 59 percent more likely to undergo early
menopause (before age 45) than non-smokers. But quitting helps: The study also found that women who quit smoking at least a decade before the onset of menopause were 87 percent less likely to experience early menopause. Other interesting points:

Compared with married women, widows were also at increased risk of early menopause, as were women who said they were in poor health. More educated women were less likely to go into menopause early, but they were also less likely to be smokers.

High social participation also cut early menopause risk. The researchers found no link between coffee or alcohol consumption or passive exposure to smoke and early menopause risk.

Karen Houppert provides a fascinating historical perspective about attitudes toward menstruation in this New York Times op-ed column
on the new birth control pill Lybrel, which is the first FDA-approved
pill marketed specifically for menstruation suppression (other birth
control pills can do the same thing; I’ve written more here). She concludes:

Someone cynical might suggest that research highlighting menstruation’s
distressing consequences bubbles to the surface every time the public
feels anxious over women’s expanding roles. (Say, the possibility that
there might be a menopausal woman in the White House — and yes, you
can’t win for losing here, given that our periods allegedly drive us to
distraction and their cessation does the same.) So take today’s hoopla over menstrual suppression with a grain of ibuprofen.

It’s difficult to go a week without reading another story about “Menopause: The Musical.” This time around, Baltimore Sun theater critic Mary Crole McCauley’s story about its growing popularity caught our eye. How you feel about Menopause: the Musical,” begins McCauley, “likely will depend on your response to the Chitlin Circuit and the Borscht Belt.” Read on.

Christine

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