Manassas Park woman sues drug company over breast cancer

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By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tina Griffin says she was never really sick a day in her life, at least not until 2002.

While on a weekend vacation with friends, the Manassas Park resident found a lump in her right breast during her shower. She had been taking Premarin and Prempro, two hormone therapy drugs that have been under scrutiny for potentially causing breast cancer.

"I know that nothing else would have caused the cancer," said Griffin, 60. "I don't get sick and rarely even get a headache. I am a very strong lady."

Griffin is one of about 10,000 women nationwide who have filed lawsuits against Wyeth, the division of Pfizer that produces Prempro and Premarin, claiming that the drugs caused them to get breast cancer, legal teams for the plaintiffs said in a statement. Pfizer does not agree that studies have shown that the drugs cause breast cancer.

Griffin's case is pending in a New Jersey court. Pfizer says most suits have been withdrawn, dismissed or resolved in the company's favor, but a handful of cases have resulted in awards for the plaintiffs. Two such judgments happened this fall in Philadelphia, where the women were awarded a total of more than $100 million in compensatory and punitive damages, said Richard Lewis, a lawyer with Hausfeld, the law firm representing Griffin.

"The dollar amount is important, but what's more important is that juries are reacting to this evidence and in a pretty consistent manner," Lewis said. "Juries are recognizing that the conduct of the defendants justifies an award."

Griffin's suit was filed in 2004, Lewis said. The mother of two is seeking damages to cover medical bills as well as pain and suffering. Because of the recent rulings for plaintiffs, Lewis said he thinks Griffin's case will go to trial.

"I didn't do this for the money, though," she said. "I want to get the medication off the market and have [Wyeth] take responsibility for it."

With her hormones "out of whack," Griffin said, she started taking hormone therapy drugs in 1996. Less than six years later, she discovered the lump.

Griffin said that because she had been healthy all her life, she didn't initially think the lump was cancer. But she quickly found out otherwise as doctors removed 14 lymph nodes and sent her through almost six months of radiation therapy.

Griffin is now cancer-free, but the effects of the disease live on. Griffin said she can't lift her right arm all the way. Carrying groceries has become a challenge, and trying to reach dishes on high shelves is nearly impossible. Doctors must use her left arm to give shots or draw blood.

Griffin said that little information about hormone drugs was available when she started taking them and that she doesn't recall warnings on the label. It wasn't until after her diagnosis that a friend came forward with an article that alleged a connection between Prempro and breast cancer.

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