On Aug. 1, the Women’s Media and Lisa Cosgrove of Harvard’s Center for Ethics published a review that links breast and ovarian cancer with antidepressant drug usage. There is a need for further investigation since the results varied widely depending on who provided the research. Overall, an 11 percent increased risk was noted in breast and ovarian cancer patients taking such medication.

“I would want to consider nondrug treatment if I was mildly depressed, given our data,” said Cosgrove.

Harvard led the review of 61 studies. Even short term or low dosage use of the medication appeared to have a link. The strongest cases occurred with the class known as SSRI class of antidepressant (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).

Prescribed for many conditions other than depression, more than 11 percent of Americans take antidepressant drugs. Women are diagnosed  with depression two times more often than men. This class of drug is commonly used as a quick fix for headaches, neck and back pain, eating disorders, anxiety and fibromyalgia. The drug is often used to treat menopause including for hot flashes in women who have had breast cancer and cannot take estrogen. The reviewers found this unsettling.

More troubling is that results by Big Pharma (the pharmaceutical industry) and “clean” research (not Big Pharma) varied widely. Not one study funded by the pharmaceutical industry reported  a link between breast and ovarian cancer and antidepressant usage. Clean research had a 43 percent link.

The recent change in baseline mammography may need to be re-evaluated — at least for women taking antidepressants. Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advised women to have their first annual screening at age 50. Cosgrove suggests that with this new information, women taking antidepressants may consider starting screenings as early as 40.

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