A $1.5 million judgment for the husband of a Pennsylvania (PA) woman who developed breast cancer after taking the hormone replacement therapy drug Prempro has been revived despite an earlier court ruling that the plaintiff’s lawsuit was filed past a state statute of limitation on defective and dangerous product claims. The drugmaker originally ordered to pay the judgment, Pharmacia & Upjohn, which is now wholly owned by Pfizer, will continue to try to get the judgment dismissed. Nonetheless, the revival of the case is a victory for all women who suffered permanent, and sometimes fatal, health problems due to long-term hormone replacement therapy.

Hormone-replacement therapy, or HRT, treatments are, essentially, birth control pills. Like most hormonal birth control pills, HRT tablets and capsules contain a mix of natural or synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone. The two hormonal therapies, therefore, also have many of the same potential side effects, including increased risks for breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, doctors regularly prescribed products such as Prempro for women as soon as they began menopause. In the short term, HRT treatments reduce the hot flashes, mood swings and other symptoms of menopause. HRT can also strengthen women’s bones, preventing the onset and slowing the progress of osteoporosis.

When taken for more than a few months, however, HRT can significantly raise a woman’s cholesterol, spur the formation of blood clots and foster the growth of estrogen-sensitive tumors in the breast. These risks became widely recognized in July 2004; the woman at the center of the Pennsylvania case developed cancer in 2002 and had not been adequately warned about Prempro’s potential to cause breast cancer.

I noted above that the revival of the Pennsylvania case is a victory for all women harmed by HRT. This is because the revival makes it possible for those women to hold drugmakers accountable for causing injuries and deaths. While drugmakers cannot always know all the risks their medications pose, they must always be held responsible when one of their products is proven unsafe. Avoiding that responsibility by invoking short statutes of limitation should not be allowed, and I am glad it was not allowed in this instance.