Creating a new understanding of menopause: The NWHN and the Women’s Health Initiative

One of the NWHN’s most significant recent accomplishment is the drop in the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancer rates fell by about 8 percent between 1990 and 2013. That translates to more than 18,000 fewer women diagnosed with the disease each year. This decline likely occurred because millions of women stopped taking menopause hormone therapy when research demonstrated that it could increase their risk of breast cancer.

Women learned about the breast cancer risk posed by hormone therapy because of the NWHN’s successful advocacy for the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), the largest long-term study of older women’s health ever conducted. Despite opposition from mainstream medicine and the pharmaceutical industry, the NWHN successfully gave voice to individual women’s demands for evidence about the safety and effectiveness of menopause hormone therapy.

We carried our message about the need to research this widely prescribed medication to policymakers — we persuaded the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to demand data from drug companies and convinced the U.S. Congress to fund the National Institutes of Health to conduct the research.

Catalyzed by grassroots consumer health concerns, the NWHN’s campaign took more than a decade and ultimately succeeded through a strategic combination of corporate watchdogging, media advocacy, dissemination of accurate consumer information, and education of policy makers.

For more information about the background and findings of the WHI, read part 1 and 2 of our multi-part newsletter series.