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AMERICAN MORNING

Interview With Barbara Seaman

Aired July 9, 2003 - 09:39   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: More than ten million women take estrogen to treat menopause. But with so many alarming studies out, it is no wonder that many women are confused, even worried about hormone replacement therapy.
Do doctors know enough, or are they behind the "Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women"? That is the title of Barbara Seaman's new book. It was released today. She joins us this morning. Nice to see you. Thanks for joining us.

BARBARA SEAMAN, "GREATEST EXPERIMENT EVER": Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You've been an advocate for women's health for decades, it's fair to say. But really your reason for writing this book I read was a personal motivation. Tell me about that.

SEAMAN: My Aunt Sally died of a premarin caused cancer, endometrial cancer when she was just short of her 50th birthday. And her doctors told us that we should never take premarin because we might have the same susceptibility.

This was back in the late 1950s. And from that time on, I decided that I wanted to find out what this was all about, why they would have taken my healthy aunt and given her something that would kill her, just for her hot flashes.

O'BRIEN: Medical studies seem inconclusive. They seem contradictory for women who are trying to keep up with what's going on. It's very hard to make a decision about whether or not to take hormone replacement therapy. Does that surprise you, considering the amount of money that's been poured into all the research, that there's no sort of final word?

SEAMAN: Soledad, I beg your pardon. I have to contradict you on that. The endometrial cancer was very well established in animal studies in the 1930s and in human studies by 1947. It was hushed up.

O'BRIEN: You're telling me there's a conspiracy between doctors and drug makers?

SEAMAN: No, I don't think the -- the average doctor has nothing but good intentions toward his patients.

The drug companies thought that there was a fortune to be made by using estrogens long-term as a fountain of youth. If they had only kept it for short-term treatment of menopause symptoms it would have been a very different matter. But they were too greedy. And a scientists who I got to know very well, Charles Dodds (ph) in England, had published his own formula for diethylstilbestrol, the first estrogen that was very cheap to make, and powerful to take by mouth. He published it in "Nature" magazine because he wanted to stop Hitler and Germany from cornering the hormone market, which they were trying to do. And they were going to use the hormones, he feared, as part of their plan for sterilizing and a master race.

And so he gave away the formula for an estrogen so the world would have it, so the Germans wouldn't corner the estrogen market. And within one year, his estrogen was being used in 80 different countries. And there was so much money to be made by the drug companies, because it wasn't patented.

O'BRIEN: Today, there are women, though, who are going to their doctors and saying, I want it, because, they say, they think it has obviously, benefits for menopause. But also they think it makes them look younger, saving off any kind of weight gain in menopause. Are you saying all those things are untrue?

SEAMAN: The menopause treatment is absolutely true. And my aunt had very severe hot flashes, and so she asked her doctor for it.

However, Charlie Dodds' regimen was to start a woman with hot flashes and as soon as the hot flashes are under control, start tapering off and don't keep her on it for more than a year. That was done in Europe for many years, and there were not nearly as many problems as developed in the United States.

But in the United States, there were these powerful drug companies who said, Wow! We can market this as a fountain of youth. We can market this as something to prolong life.

O'BRIEN: Keep women on it for many years?

SEAMAN: "Keep her on premarin" was a big slogan. And that's where the major trouble started.

And the average doctor was fooled, because the drug companies did drugs that I call -- they did science that I call science by press release. They did very weak, silly little studies. And then presented them without telling the truth. Can I give you a couple of examples?

O'BRIEN: We actually are out of time, but of course the examples can be found in your book which is called "The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women." Barbara Seaman, nice to see you. Thanks for joining us this morning.

SEAMAN: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Certainly appreciate it.

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