Controversy over Using Estrogens to Suppress Growth in Tall Girls
In February, PCRM exposed the little known practice of prescribing estrogens to tall girls in order to suppress their growth. The practice began in the 1950s, based on observation that, when used in high doses, estrogens seal the growth plates in bones, arresting further elongation. The use of estrogen compounds in birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, and other treatments can contribute to blood clots and certain forms of cancer, among other serious problems. In addition, children placed on estrogen undergo a pelvic exam—which many find troubling at such a young age—and then must endure early periods, darkening of the nipples, and other physical changes.
PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D., and Suzanne Bobela, along with Anthony Scialli, M.D., of Georgetown University School of Medicine surveyed pediatric endocrinologists practicing in the United States and found that 33 percent continue to offer oral estrogen for growth suppression despite the controversy that has surrounded this practice for decades. Many of the physicians who do not offer such treatment reported an unwillingness to prescribe medications for which no long-term risk assessment has been performed. Others pointed out that tall stature is not a disease. A full report appeared in the February issue of the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology generating a flurry of media attention including a story in Newsweek online.
Through interviews with women who came forward to share their stories, PCRM researchers discovered many had experienced reproductive complications, sometimes requiring surgery and compromising their fertility. As a result, some suffered with depression and other psychological conditions. PCRM has called for long-term monitoring of women who were treated as children, and petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to require that estrogen prescribing information specify that the drug is not approved for growth suppression as its safety has not been established.