Estrogen Given to Pre-Teen Girls to Inhibit Growth

| April 29, 2002

Estrogen Given to Pre-Teen Girls to Inhibit Growth 

A 12-year-old girl is tall and keeps getting taller, so to slow her growth a doctor gives her a two-year regimen of high-dose estrogen. Although this sounds like a treatment from the 1950s, it was widely used throughout the 1970s and is still being used by many doctors today. And despite evidence that a multitude of health problems may be connected to the treatment, no long-term study of the practice has ever been conducted.

The estrogen works to cause bone cartilage to mature and stop growing, which can shorten predicted height by as much as two inches, reports Suzanne Batchelor for the Women's Enews Web site. But there may be long-term side effects, including endometriosis, endometrial cancer, miscarriage, and infertility. Dr. Scott A. Rivkees, a pediatric endocrinologist, has treated girls with high-dosage estrogen and says, 'About one in four or five girls will have reproductive problems.' He would welcome long-term monitoring of women who have been given the treatment.

The treatment is not illegal, even though the FDA has not approved this use for estrogen. And it may not even be necessary. Girls treated with high-dose estrogen have normal pituitary function and generally just have tall parents. No physiological damage occurs as a result of being too tall, Batchelor notes, but the social pressure on tall girls is apparently enough to create a market for the treatment.

'There's only one reason to be shorter: It's for men,' says psychologist Elizabeth Slater. 'I can't think of any other reason.'
--Maria Opitz
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