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Doctors say Vytorin-cancer link can’t be ruled out


3 Star

Doctors say Vytorin-cancer link can’t be ruled out

Our Review Summary

This story attempted to provide readers with some insight about the results of recent study that a medication (ezetimibe) used to lower cholesterol may have an unforeseen side effect on cancer incidence and/or death.  

But the story:

  • failed to adequately quantify the risks seen in trials (it gave no denominator, so readers can’t do a meaningful comparison between groups);
  • sometimes framed high cholesterol as a disease itself, failing to emphasize strongly enough that the goal is to reduce heart attacks and stroke for which there is not good evidence 

This is one time when it is helpful to compare how other journalists covered the story.  The New York Times piece in its continuing excellent "Evidence Gap" series did a far better job of giving context and explaining the questions surrounding ezetimibe to readers.  The Associated Press says it had three reporters working on this piece.  The end result could have been much better.  


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There was no discussion of cost.  

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

Not Satisfactory

The story provided several pieces of information about the benefits of treatment.  The first was that the drug Vytorin did not demonstrate benefit for individuals with aortic valve disease.  The second piece of information that was partially presented was that the drug Vytorin is used to lower cholesterol.  Here the story was inadequate because it did not indicate how well the drug worked in terms of its ability to lower cholesterol and did not provide quantitative information about the potential benefit of lowering cholesterol.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story indicated that there was a question as to whether the use of the medication Vytorin was associated with an increased risk of developing cancer or dying of cancer.  However – while supplying the reader with the actual number of individuals in the respective groups that developed cancer, the story gave no denominator (i.e. how many people were in the group) – so it is not possible for readers to do a meaningful comparison of how the numbers compare to one another.


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


The story attempted to explain the sources of the data being combined in order to get a clearer indication of whether or not there was an increased risk of cancer.  It could have done a better job of explaining the type of studies and that the observed increase in cancer was not for a specific type or types of cancer but was seen only when all cancers were combined.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

There was some disease mongering in that the story – at times – framed high cholesterol as a disease itself and failed to emphasize that the goal is to reduce heart attacks and strokes, for which there isn’t good evidence.  This isn’t difficult to explain – the New York Times did an excellent job on this issue on the same story this same day

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


The story included quotes from several investigators who were not directly associated with the study reported on.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story included a statement from Dr. Weaver indicating that if the only way to get his cholesterol down was to take Vytorin, he would not change his therapy based on the results of the recent study.  However the story (and Dr. Weaver) failed to indicate what the options are for patients who are intent on lowering their cholesterol.   

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


 The story makes it clear that "Vytorin is a combination of Merck’s Zocor, a long-sold statin drug, and Schering-Plough’s Zetia, a newer type of medicine that lowers cholesterol in a different way."

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story indicated that the drug under investigation was a combination of 2 medications that lowered cholesterol, one of which utilized a novel mechanism.  

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


Does not appear to rely on a press release.


Total Score: 5 of 10 Satisfactory


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