Health News Review

It is so easy to get a story like this wrong.  But this story mostly got it right. 

Our Review Summary

Appropriate discussion of possible limitations of the research.  Good context.  Appropriate warnings to women being treated for breast cancer NOT to start taking aspirin.


Why This Matters

As one expert said in the story, "If true, it would certainly be a relatively easy, inexpensive, potentially safe intervention for women who have had breast cancer."  But the story made clear that’s a big IF.


Criteria

Not Applicable

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Cost of aspirin is not in question.  Not applicable.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Only relative risk reduction data were provided:  "They found that women who took aspirin two to five days per week were 60% less likely to have a recurrence and 71% less likely to die from breast cancer. Those taking it more frequently had a 43% lower risk of recurrence and a 64% lower risk of death."

60% of what?  71% less likely than what? Etc.  Please provide absolute data. 

Satisfactory

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story cautioned that aspirin can interfere with breast cancer treatment, "producing severe side effects."

Satisfactory

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

Although the story didn’t specifically address the potential limitaitons of observational studies, it injected sufficient caveats, such as:

"The study’s authors described the findings as surprising and worthy of follow-up, but even they cautioned that survivors shouldn’t yet begin prophylactic aspirin use.

The new results could be because the process of metastasis of breast cancer is different than that of initiation and could thus be susceptible to influence by aspirin. Or it could be simply that there is some other shared characteristic of women who took aspirin that produced the beneficial effect. …

But, (one expert) added, researchers "have been tricked by things like this before, especially in cancer epidemiology." The most notorious example was a study that showed a clear statistical link between drinking coffee and developing lung cancer. "The problem turned out to be that smokers drank a lot of coffee. When you controlled for smoking, everything disappeared."

 
Satisfactory

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease-mongering of breast cancer.

Satisfactory

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

One independent source was quoted.

Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story mentioned that there was no statistical suggestion of benefit from acetaminophen use – or from once a week aspirin use. 

Not Applicable

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

Availability of aspirin is not in question. Not applicable.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

Good context was provided. For example: 

The results, reported Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, are surprising because at least five large studies have shown that taking aspirin regularly has no effect on the risk of developing breast cancer in the first place.

and

The research is not without foundation. Metastasis is clearly linked to inflammation, and aspirin reduces inflammation. Studies in laboratory dishes show that aspirin can inhibit the growth and invasiveness of breast cancer cells and stimulate the immune system to attack the cells.

Not Applicable

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Applicable

It’s clear the story didn’t rely on a news release.

Total Score: 6 of 7 Satisfactory


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