Health News Review

German physician-journalist Christoph Specht wrote to me about what he called an “unbelievably un-balanced book-selling segment on CNN.”

It was still another network TV news promotion of Dr. David Agus’ book, “The End of Illness.”

In the segment, Agus urges listeners to consider daily statin and aspirin use. He says they can get a 90-day supply of a statin like Lipitor for $10 – and that this can “decrease your incidence of cancer by 40 percent.”  He also says that daily aspirin can decrease your risk of death from cancer and heart disease.

Dr. Specht wrote to me:

“Understanding that Dr. David Agus focused on taking “Lipitor” and aspirin” as THE solution for preventing illnesses is one thing. Another is why Dr. Gupta limited his reply to just asking him whether this isn’t “pill-pushing”. There is so much more to say about such an unbalanced, one-sided claim as “Lipitor cuts the risk of getting cancer by 40%”. To say the least, why didn’t he mention that Lipitor and – of course  – aspirin have considerable side effects that must be taken into account when discussing prevention for the entire population? As well as they might work in individuals (in terms of benefit/risk-ratio), this by no means can be extrapolated to the largest group we can think of – the population. Sorry Sanjay, but in this instance you could have done better. I know you can.”

I’ve heard from numerous observers who have concerns about the widespread and unquestioning promotion of Agus’ book and statements.

Yesterday I heard from some Canadian observers after his appearance on CBC radio.

Even Jon Stewart had Agus on The Daily Show and, while I almost always applaud Stewart’s toughness as an interviewer, he threw softball questions at Agus while affording him several minutes of free book promotion. (Maybe Stewart should leave health care topics to Stephen Colbert, whose health care-related parodies are far more insightful and incisive.)

If you missed it, please see our post from three weeks ago – A critical analysis of ABC & Bill Weir’s “lifesaving test” story – about that network’s week-long promotion of the book, one part of which was particularly troublesome.



Ken Leebow posted on February 8, 2012 at 10:03 am

All I can say is: My doctor advised me that taking an aspirin can be dangerous. Of course, in the proper situation, it is advisable to take an aspirin … consult with your trusted physician.

And, I proudly have the website …

In this “magic pill” obsessed society, it’s nice not to be taking any of them.

P.S. Charlie Rose didn’t throw any hardballs either.

Evilcyber posted on February 8, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Do you wonder why that book is so heavily pushed or why it so heavily sells?

The first is marketing relying on a sensational claim, backed by an apparent authority and providing a simple solution to a complex problem. The second is – and always was – gullibility.

Marilyn Mann posted on February 8, 2012 at 8:20 pm

There is no convincing evidence that statins lower the risk of cancer at all, much less by 40 percent. There are some observational studies that show an association between statins and lower risk of cancer, but meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials have found no effect of statins on cancer incidence or cancer death. It seems likely that the results of the observational studies are due to bias or confounding. David Agus should know better.

Joy posted on February 13, 2012 at 9:37 am

Is it too much to ask these health journalists to take a little crash course in epidemiology? I don’t care if you are a brain surgeon Gupta. Learn your epi and start asking people to explain their numbers.

I Hate Quacks posted on May 10, 2012 at 1:20 am

I don’t get it. Argus explicitly states that taken vitamins is dangerous yet recommends perfectly healthy adults take stains and aspirin. I skimmed the book without finishing it. Seems like bad science to me.