Shock, terror and controversy: how the media reacted to the Women's Health Initiative

Climacteric. 2012 Jun;15(3):275-80. doi: 10.3109/13697137.2012.660048.


Results from the first publication of the Women's Health Initiative trial were announced by press release and press conference in July 2002. The announcement explained that the combined hormone trial had been terminated early because of 'increased breast cancer risk'. The dramatic nature of the announcement set the tone for the early news reporting from the study and introduced a note of confusion into the media's perception of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Such a tone persisted until July 2007, when the trial revised its findings on cardiovascular risk. Despite investigators' protests to the contrary, the results were perceived by the press as a U-turn, and reinforced the media's confused interpretation of the safety and benefits of HRT. We argue that the WHI's melodramatic presentation of its results explains the media response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Media*
  • Menopause
  • Middle Aged
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors
  • Women's Health*