Compare stories on aspirin and colon cancer study

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(See correction in the post above this one)

See the HealthNewsReview.org review of the CBS Evening News story, and of the USA Today story. Both 3 stars out of five. Both used the more impressive relative risk reduction figures rather than the more helpful absolute risk reduction stats. Neither explained the long history of research into aspirin and colon cancer – thereby again hyping the research as “revolutionary” – in USA Today’s words.

Thanks to Andrew Holtz for having a hand in both reviews.

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Liz Szabo

August 13, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Gary and Andrew,
Much of the information that you found missing in our 1A story is in fact found in the accompanying sidebar, located on 4D (http://tinyurl.com/ks7sax). While you may take issue with our newspaper’s design — and our practice of breaking stories into mainbars and sidebars — it’s not quite fair to say that we neglected to provide the information entirely.
Your review is also inaccurate. Your review says we included only relative survival rates. In fact, the online Q&A (above) actually includes absolute survival rates for COX-2+ tumors, which you won’t find anywhere else. Although the JAMA article itself didn’t provide them, authors computed these rates at our request, and they’re included exclusively at usatoday.com.
Here they are: “Among patients whose tumors overproduced COX-2, 76% of those who took aspirin after diagnosis were alive 10 years later, compared to 67% of those who didn’t take aspirin,” Chan says.
Both the print and online Q&A also include important side effect information — including the fact that aspirin’s toxicity is far less than that of standard chemo.
Q: Aspirin is far cheaper and less toxic than most other cancer treatments. Is there any harm in trying it, even without ironclad proof that it works?
A: Patients should ask their doctors’ advice, Chan says.
Aspirin can reduce the risk of heart attacks in high-risk patients, so certain patients may have other good reasons to take it, Chan says. But aspirin also can cause gastrointestinal bleeding that can be serious, so doctors are reluctant to tell patients to take it until they have solid evidence that its benefits outweigh any potential harm.

Gary Schwitzer

August 13, 2009 at 8:50 pm

Liz,
We apologize for missing the printed sidebar that accompanied the main story. I have now posted an apology and a correction on the HealthNewsReview.org website.
I have never taken issue with your newspaper’s design — or your practice of breaking stories into mainbars and sidebars.
We currently only review what is in print, not what appears on the web. This is how we review 49 other newspapers and three magazines. Also for the TV networks – we currently only review what was broadcast – not what appeared on the networks’ websites. So, while you managed to get the absolute risk reduction stats onto the website, those who read only the paper didn’t get that crucial information.