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Another hormone controversy is in the making with the advent this month of a new drug that prevents osteoporosis.

Raloxifene, which got the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seal of approval on Dec. 10, is an estrogen-mimicking drug that is said to protect bones in post-menopausal women without the risks associated with hormone replacement therapy.

An estimated 10 million post-menopausal American women are at increased risk of developing osteoporosis and heart disease, but only 15 to 20 percent of them are taking estrogen replacement, mostly because of its link with breast cancers.

The new anti-estrogen drugs are not as effective as estrogens in protecting bones, and their role in preventing heart disease is not clear yet. But they are a welcome alternative for women at high risk of developing breast cancer, and millions of others who would rather risk losing bone density than take a chance on developing malignancies.

The new drugs provide one more option that women entering the "change of life" will have to mull -- without adequate information, some observers believe.

In a National Council on Aging survey of 1,000 women between ages 45 and 64, 61 percent said they feared breast cancer most. Only 9 percent feared heart disease.

Yet heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death in women, killing more than the next 16 causes of death combined.

An American Heart Association survey showed only 8 percent of women recognize the role heart disease plays in their mortality.

Lung cancer kills more women than breast cancer. Still, it is fear of the latter that has clamped a vise on women's psyche.

The "one in eight" mantra has succeeded in increasing the flow of research dollars and accelerating diagnoses and treatment. But those odds on breast cancer are misleading, as the British medical journal Lancet noted in a recent issue.

"One in eight" refers to the lifetime risk of a woman who lives into her 80s. For young women, the odds are one in 622 women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer. But the ratio gradually worsens as women age. By age 45, the risk of developing breast cancer is one in 93; by age 55, it is one in 17.

The Lancet editors suggest that while heart disease poses a much greater risk for women, they may prefer the quick death associated with it to the prolonged battle that breast cancer often involves.

Studies have shown that estrogen retards osteoporosis, reduces the chances of heart disease and may prevent Alzheimer's disease. It is considered the best antidote to hot flashes. Initial reports indicate raloxifene does some but not all these things, and none as effectively as estrogen. Estrogen has been linked to breast and uterine cancers. The risk attributed to raloxifene is the possibility of blood clots.

The choice will be easy for women at high risk for cancer, not so easy for others. Testing of both options is continuing. In the meantime, women are being told to consult with their doctors.
It's behind schedule, but Buffalo's first women-built Habitat for Humanity house is expected to be ready for occupancy by the end of January.

The project is about $15,000 short in its budget, in case you're looking for a year-end worthy cause on which to dump your excess cash.

But there's no shortage of volunteers, according to Carol J. LaBruna, co-chairwoman of the project.

Exterior work on the one-story ranch-style house is completed, and volunteers are working three days a week on the interior. Cash is needed for materials, including kitchen cabinets, flooring and bathroom fixtures, and to pay for required supervisory help, such as licensed plumbers and electricians.

Volunteers are welcome on Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Work commences at 9 a.m. and continues until the day's task is completed or materials are depleted. Call Gretchen Stringer, project co-chairwoman, at 633-8264.

Donations to Habitat/Buffalo are being taken by the project sponsor, National Association of Women Business Owners, P.O. Box 807, Getzville, N.Y. 14068.

The three-bedroom house, originally scheduled for completion this fall, is Buffalo Habitat for Humanity's 50th house. It has been designated for a single mother and her children.

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