Studies back up HRT, anti-TNF risks

Two new studies appear to bolster recent news about the risks of certain drugs. First, there's a study published this week in The Lancet Oncology, in which a synthetic hormone used to treat menopause symptoms boosted the risk of breast cancer relapse by 40 percent. The steroid--Schering-Plough's Livial (tibolone)--was tested in women who had been surgically treated for breast cancer, because those patients often suffer from menopausal symptoms. But the patients who received the drug saw their risk of recurrence climb by 40 percent in comparison with the placebo group. The study authors concluded that women who have had breast cancer shouldn't use Livial. 

As you know, hormone replacement therapy has come under fire for various reasons, including a link with breast cancer risk. Recently, researchers delved into Women's Health Intitiative data and appeared to confirm that cancer link. This latest study would appear to offer further confirmation--though some disagree, including the companies that make the hormone therapies.

Meanwhile, another bit of research offers backup to recent warnings that anti-TNF alpha drugs may boost patients' risk of infection. A German study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed data from more than 5,000 patients on different forms of rheumatoid arthritis treatment. Among those taking anti-TNF drugs, the risk of shingles was almost double.

The study authors advised that patients using these meds be monitored for shingles, a painful skin disease caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus. A weakened immune system appears to be one of the triggers, so that's why anti-TNF drugs might increase the risk, the researchers said.

- read the Livial story from AFP
- see the BBC's anti-TNF article