Friday, April 02, 2010

HRT 'does NOT raise risk of breast cancer'

Is that discredited scare truly dead at last?

Confusion about the safety of HRT grew yesterday as a study showed it does not increase the risk of breast cancer. Analysis of the health records of millions of British women in their 50s and 60s found no correlation between use of the controversial treatment and rates of the disease.

Fears over the drug’s safety were first raised in 2002, when a major U.S. study linked it to a range of ills, including breast cancer and heart disease.

Following the scare, hundreds of thousands of British women abandoned the treatment, with the number taking hormone replacement therapy to help them through the menopause halving to one million by 2005.

But the Women’s Health Initiative study did not focus on women in their 50s – the most common age for HRT users in the UK. Reanalysis of the data found the health risks may apply only to older women, who have already gone through the menopause and who are not typical HRT users.

However, worries about the treatment – which usually contains a combination of the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone – have refused to go away. Many women are still scared to take HRT and, just a year ago, fears about its link to breast cancer were reignited when a study concluded that taking the drug could double the risk of developing the disease.

It reported that using HRT for as little as two years increased the danger. However, it added that when patients stopped the therapy, their odds quickly improved, returning to normal two years later.

Now, in an attempt to resolve the argument, researchers from Bristol University have looked at whether the rates of various diseases changed during the years that women turned their backs on the drug. If HRT does raise the risk of breast cancer, incidences of the disease should have fallen after 2002 as HRT use declined.

But the scientists found that the treatment’s drop in popularity did not affect breast cancer rates at all, suggesting HRT is not a factor in developing the disease. Similarly, use of HRT was found to have no association with rates of bowel cancer or hip fractures, the Journal of Public Health reports.

Like the U.S. study, the British analysis did suggest that HRT is associated with a higher risk of serious blood clots – but the researchers were not confident the drug was to blame.

However, they did not give HRT a completely clean bill of health, saying that the exercise should be repeated over a longer timescale to detect any cancers or other problems that take a long time to develop.

HRT is used to combat symptoms of the menopause, such as hot flushes, mood changes and night sweats. The treatment can be taken via a range of methods, including tablets, implants, skin gels and patches. Its long-term benefits may include a reduced risk of osteoporosis.


Chinese medicine sellers face regulation crackdown in Britain

It has always amazed me that regular pharmaceuticals are so tightly regulated when "alternative" medical practitioners can give people all sorts of dangerous and damaging stuff

Shops and clinics selling herbal and Chinese medicine are to be regulated for the first time. Health Secretary Andy Burnham has indicated he will tighten the law in an attempt to protect the public from ill-trained and bogus practitioners.

Almost 2,500 qualified herbalists and Chinese medicine practitioners will lose the right to supply a wide range of medicines because they are not signed up to a statutory regulation scheme.

Fears have been raised about the lack of regulation around herbal and Chinese medicine, which is often sold via high street shops, online and in private clinics.

Last month a judge criticised the lack of regulation after hearing of the case of Patricia Booth, 58, who was treated for a skin condition for five years with pills sold by a Chinese herbal medicine retailer - and later suffered bladder cancer and kidney failure.

Mr Burnham said yesterday that he was ‘minded to legislate’ so practitioners supplying unlicensed medicines have to register with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council. However, the CHNC is a voluntary body, unlike the Health Professions Council which oversees statutory regulation of chiropractors and osteopaths.

Further talks are to be held with professional bodies and devolved governments before a decision is made on changing the law.

Fears have been raised about the lack of regulation around herbal and Chinese medicine, which is often sold via high street shops, online and in private clinics. Last month a judge slammed the lack of regulation after hearing of the death of a Patricia Booth, 58, who was treated for five years with cancer-causing pills sold by a Chinese herbal medicine retailer.

Mr Burnham insisted the new register 'will increase public protection' without placing 'unreasonable extra burdens on practitioners'. He has not yet decided whether to regulate acupuncture treatment.

But the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association said the plan was a 'cop-out' because the CHNC lacks the structure, staff, financial resources or legal power to provide statutory regulation.

Chairman Michael McIntyre said 'Herbalists should be regulated like other statutorily regulated healthcare practitioners or the public will lose access to properly regulated herbalists and a wide range of herbal medicines.

'The Government must give detailed assurances that the legal and structural basis of statutory regulation is fit for purpose or it will betray the millions of people who regularly consult herbal practitioners. 'So far the Government has singularly failed to provide these guarantees.'

At least six million Britons have consulted a herbal practitioner in the last two years, according to Ipsos Mori research. As many as one in 12 adults has used herbal medicines obtained from a Western or traditional Chinese practitioner.

Prince Charles, a long-standing supporter of complementary therapies, met Mr Burnham when he voiced his support for formal regulation of herbal practitioners.

Dr Michael Dixon, medical director to the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, said he hoped a full statutory scheme would be introduced because 'light touch' regulation or licensing would fail to protect the public. He said 'It would be an extraordinary combination of carelessness about patient safety with more nanny state interference.

'It could allow those with no more than 4 – 6 weeks basic training to access powerful herbs, prepare their own remedies and offer treatment to the public. That will risk more cases of serious harm to patients treated by inexperienced, inadequately trained practitioners.

'A bizarre consequence of anything less than statutory regulation would be that, combined with EU rules, it would effectively ban even those with full training and qualifications from providing many herbal medicines currently in use. They would not be permitted access to manufactured or pre-prepared herbal remedies.

Emma Farrant, secretary of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine, said 'The CNHC was formed to regulate complementary health practitioners on a voluntary basis, and as currently constituted, is not equipped for statutory regulation. 'The apparent decision to exclude acupuncturists from full regulation is bizarre and regrettable.'

Mike O'Farrell, chief executive of the British Acupuncture Council, said 'It is our belief that statutory regulation is in the best interest of public health.'


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