On Sunday, I was honored to accept an award on your behalf. The National Women’s Health Network received the Grassroots Activism Award from the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) for our success in reducing the incidence of breast cancer. I accepted on your behalf because it was the Network’s longtime advocacy -- including the activism of our members and supporters -- challenging widespread use of hormone therapy that led to this important accomplishment. We changed the lives of 160,000 women who were not diagnosed with breast cancer over the last 10 years because they avoided unnecessary exposure to drugs that would have caused it.
When NBCC President Fran Visco presented the award, she commended the Network for taking on this battle to change medical practice and demand research to answer women’s questions about the health effects of hormones. “Against all odds, challenging accepted wisdom, the National Women’s Health Network boldly insisted on the collection of systematic evidence,” she said.
You remember what she was talking about: until just about 10 years ago, it was routine practice to prescribe hormone therapy to women during menopause. This was justified by claims that it would keep us young and healthy, despite the lack of evidence supporting those claims and despite evidence suggesting that hormone therapy might increase the risk of breast cancer. But the Network knew that what the medical establishment believed had not been proven by science. And we wouldn’t stop saying that – even when the response was rolled eyes and smug looks.
Our campaign took more than a decade and ultimately succeeded because women wouldn’t back down! As Fran said on Sunday, “By asking important questions, insisting on finding the answers, and helping disseminate the information, the National Women’s Health Network played an important role in changing medical and patient behavior leading to the first significant reduction in breast cancer incidence in the United States.” We insisted that the federal government be accountable to women and invest in research to answer questions important to our health – and they did by establishing the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI).
Almost 10 years ago, in July 2002, the groundbreaking findings from the WHI were released, showing that hormone therapy was causing serious health problems for women – including breast cancer. The Network made sure this information got to where it was needed – to the eyes and ears of women who could finally make informed decisions about whether to use these drugs to help themselves through the menopause transition.
I’m proud of what we accomplished together – preventing more than 160,000 cases of breast cancer and counting! And I’m looking forward to celebrating more of our successes when the July anniversary of the WHI comes around this summer. Watch the Network’s website in the coming weeks for more information about the upcoming anniversary…