23. "What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You"
In 1963, the Upjohn Company applied for a permit to begin testing Depo-Provera
for use as a contraceptive. By 1974, the Food and Drug Administration
was on the verge of approving its use only when all alternative methods
had failed and when the woman did not want any more children. But pressure
from the Health Research Group -- a Ralph Nader organization and from
Congressional hearings prompted the FDA to withhold even limited approval
pending further studies on the drug. Subsequently, the FDA informed
Upjohn that Depo-Provera was not an approvable drug for contraception
because of its risks.
Tests indicate that the drug has caused breast nodules in dogs, some
of which are malignant, and it increased the risk of cervical cancer,
and could possibly cause cervical sterility, severe depression, loss
of hair, irregular bleeding or prolonged lack of menstruation.
However, the drug had been approved for treatment of uterine cancer.
Nonetheless, Depo-Provera is a drug prescribed by doctors as a contraceptive.
Since it is approved for the treatment of uterine cancer, the drug can
Physicians prescribing it for birth control point out that it is the
most widely used hormonal contraceptive outside the U.S., that over
60 countries approve it for such use, that it is effective, easy to
administer, and requires little patient responsibility. (It is administered
in the form of a shot once every three months.)
A 1977 survey of 50 Los Angeles gynecologists revealed that 15 prescribe
Depo-Provera as a contraceptive:
Equally disturbing to the questions about the safety of the drug, is
the failure of physicians to inform women about the known risks of Depo-Provera.
Interviews with 150 women who were prescribed the drug showed that
81 percent had not been verbally informed that the drug was anything
but a standard contraceptive; 80 percent were not told of its possible
link with sterility; and 96 percent were not told of its link with cancer.
Many respondents reported that their doctors merely described it as
The questionable ethical behavior of the prescribing physicians and
the media's failure to publicize the issue qualifies this story for
nomination as one of the "best censored" stories of 1978.
New West, August 14, 1978, p. 78, "What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell
You," by Diane Swanbrow.
McCall's, January, 1978, p. 39, "The Facts About a Controversial