Nancey Land says she has no family history of breast cancer.

So the 54-year-old Columbia woman was shocked in 1999 when a routine mammogram turned up five suspicious spots on one of her breasts. Biopsies on three spots found all of them to be cancerous.

Land said she underwent a mastectomy, followed by months of painful radiation and chemotherapy.

My first thought was ‘I’m going to die,’ the retired Lexington 1 teacher recalled.

Land blames her cancer on a hormone replacement therapy drug, called Prempro, that she started taking more than three years earlier. She is among more than 100 S.C. women who have sued the drugs New Jersey-based manufacturer, Wyeth, said the womens attorney, Ken Suggs of Columbia.

Suggs won a legal victory last week in Philadelphia when a jury returned a $3 million verdict for a 67-year-old Ohio woman who claimed Prempro caused her breast cancer. The woman initially won $1.5 million in October, but a mistrial later was declared after a juror was found to be ineligible, Suggs said.

His law firm in January won a separate $1.5 million verdict in a case involving an Arkansas woman. Wyeth won two other cases in federal court.

Its far too common that the bottom line takes over, and marketers override science, said Suggs, former president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

Wyeth spokesman Doug Petkus said his company plans to appeal last weeks verdict in Philadelphia. He described Prempro as a safe and effective drug.

Prempro, which has been on the market since 1995, is a drug that combines the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. It is used to treat symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats and osteoporosis.

Prempro was developed because certain estrogen-only products were linked to cancer of the uterus, Suggs said. But a national study of the drug was stopped in 2002 after researchers found it increased the risk of breast cancer by 26 percent in women who used the drug more than five years.

That news caused worldwide sales to plummet, Suggs said, noting that annual sales once had topped $2 billion.

In 2003, the federal Food and Drug Administration ordered “black box warnings” to be placed on labels of all menopausal drugs containing estrogen only or the estrogen/progesterone combination, stating those drugs could slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes and blood clots.

Land, who has been married for 26 years with no children, said she began using Prempro in late 1995 or early 1996 to prevent symptoms of menopause that followed surgery to remove uterine polyps.

“I dont want anyone else to go through this if they dont have to, she said. For a while, the cancer controls you. I had to hit bottom several times and then cry my way back up.”

Land said she is cancer-free, though she added, “Each year when I get a mammogram, I get terrified.”

 



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