Profits to Flow for Period-Stopping Drug

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The first continuous-use oral contraceptive to be marketed specifically as a method to drastically reduce women's menstrual cycles is expected to be on the North American market as early as this Summer.

Currently under review by the US Food and Drug Administration. Seasonale, developed by Barr Laboratories, would reduce a woman's ovulation and menstruation cycles from an average of 12 a year to four. The estrogen and progestin content is comparable to standard oral contraceptives, but the hormones have a lower cumulative dosage. Normally, oral contraceptives reduce the growth of the lining in the uterus; Seasonale is designed to suppress it altogether.

Controlling menstruation in week four of a 28-day oral contraceptive regime by skipping the placebos is not news; many women on the pill have postponed their period using this method for special events on an occasional basis. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are expected to promote their product as an ongoing means to give women greater control over their bodies. Although the drug has not yet been approved in Canada, women's health activists here are already sounding the alarm bell.

"There are a lot of questions that are not being asked about the impact of taking oral contraceptives on women's health," says Christine Hitchcock, a researcher at the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research (CeMCOR) in Vancouver. "One area that concerns us is the potential effect of extended oral contraceptives on normal ovarian cycles." Hitchcock is worried about the potential health effects on young women who use extended oral contraceptives before their ovarian cycles are well established. Currently, about 18 percent of Canadian women use oral contraceptives. A small percentage take continuous contraceptive regimes because their periods are very painful or because they are at a high risk of ovarian cancer.

Research presents mixed evaluations of the health risks associated with oral contraceptive use. While ovarian and endometrial cancers appear to be reduced, there is an increase in breast and cervical cancers. …