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Journalists exaggerate claims of pharmaceuticals, misreport risks

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 by: E. Huff, staff writer
Tags: journalism, pharmaceuticals, health news


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(NaturalNwes) Doctors and researchers are beginning to question the outlandish claims being made by the media in response to alleged breakthroughs in cancer research. In an editorial published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI), several doctors expressed concern that news pieces fail to accurately reflect the truth concerning drugs and scientific studies.

Drs. Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin from the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in New Hampshire, along with Dr. Barnett Kramer from JNCI, examined media claims about a new anti-cancer drug called olaparib that was reported on in the acclaimed New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Though the study was uncontrolled and preliminary, some sources were claiming it as the most important cancer breakthrough in ten years.

Another report exaggerated study findings concerning alcohol and cancer risk. In response to a study that showed a two-percent increase in breast cancer risk from drinking one alcoholic beverage a day versus not drinking at all, one media source produced a headline that said, "A drink a day raises a women's risk of cancer", with no mention of the important details in the article. Perhaps a simple oversight, the coverage failed to accurately assess the truth and may have needlessly scared readers concerning alcohol consumption.

Coverage concerning pharmaceutical drugs is often the most inaccurate. Aside from the fact that many drug studies are corrupted from the start because of who is bankrolling them, negative findings are often omitted from the results while miniscule benefits are highlighted as breakthroughs. The intensity and rate of severe negative side effects from pharmaceutical drugs is routinely left out of mainstream reports concerning drug study results.

Some of the most common drugs for which exaggerated and inaccurate claims are made include antidepressant medications, statin drugs, and vaccines. Not only are they typically ineffective at performing the task for which they are prescribed, they are highly dangerous and come with significant side effects.

Since many medical journals themselves omit important study details, it is no wonder that coverage problems are occurring. Editorialists at JNCI are encouraging editors of medical journals and journalists to utilize a tip sheet they created that will assist in gathering accurate, thorough information concerning study findings. It offers assistance in knowing what questions to ask, interpreting data and statistics, and indicating the existence of study flaws and limitations in reports. They hope that improvements in the way journalists research information will lead to more accurate reporting.

Sources for this story include

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-...

http://www.oxfordjournals.org/our_journals/j...

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