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D. When It Comes To Estrogen, Consider The Big Picture

Narrator: This is Science Today. Although estrogen has shown promise as a protective agent against Alzheimer's and heart disease, epidemiologist Virginia Ernster of the University of California, San Francisco says one really has to look at the big picture.

Ernster: What's often unfortunate is that we focus on a particular disease outcome, rather than looking at all the outcomes that might be associated with a particular therapy. And with estrogen, it truly is a very mixed blessing. One of the big studies showed that women on estrogen had a lower overall mortality driven by the favorable effect of estrogen on cardiovascular diseases. But if you looked at cause specific mortalities, there was about a forty percent increase in breast cancer.

Narrator: So decisions should be made on an individual basis.

Ernster: For some individuals, one disease is more important in their sense of well being maybe than in another and for women at high risk to breast cancer, the breast cancer may rightly figure larger in the decision making process than other women.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.