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Vitamins get ‘F’ in cancer prevention


4 Star

Vitamins get ‘F’ in cancer prevention

Our Review Summary

What a refreshing experience to read a story in this top-circulation daily paper that a magic bullet may be losing its magic!  We applaud the reporter and the paper for bucking the trend of hyping "new" medical commodities and instead describing that previously embraced therapies are discovered to be ineffective.  

It gave a solid overview, using the results of one recent study to highlight that a number of recent studies have found that supplementation with specific vitamins and/or minerals fails to reduce the chance of developing particular cancers.  While indicating that dietary studies have found reduced cancer rates associated with particular patterns of eating, it accurately reported the failure to find the same sort of benefit from individual nutrients.  The take away message of the story was that a vitamin supplement does not replicate the benefits that may be obtained from consumption of a healthy diet.

Overall, though, kudos for not simply reporting the study du jour, but for putting it into a broader big picture context. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story provided no cost estimates for vitamin and mineral supplements.  The magnitude of wasted expenditures that could be saved is relevant.

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


The story indicated that there was no cancer risk reduction associated with the vitamin supplements studied.

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


A quote in the story from the author of one of the studies indicated that too little or too much of particular vitamins was associated with increased cancer risk.  In addition, the table in the story provided information about vitamins being associated with an increased risk of diabetes and a higher, though not significant increase in the incidence in the case of one cancer.


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

Not Satisfactory

The story did not convey any sense of the quality of the studies on which it was reporting.  Were they retrospective observational studies (generally weak designs) or prospective randomized trials (the best type of study).  A more insightful explanation about why the current group of studies which find no protective effect are more compelling that the previous studies that found a protective effect of vitamins would have also been useful..   


Does the story commit disease-mongering?


This story did not engage in disease mongering.

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


The story included quotes from one of the study authors, as well as a spokesperson from the American Cancer Society and an expert without connection to the study but who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story mentions specific lifestyle interventions which have been shown to be associated with reduction in cancer risk. 

It inaccurately mentioned screening for colon, cervical, and breast cancer as means of reducing their risk.  It should have stated that these screening tests are associated with reduced risk of dying of these cancers, not as means of reducing the chance of developing them. 

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


It’s clear that vitamins and mineral supplements are in widespread use. 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story correctly indicated that the results of the current study are consistent with the results from several recent studies which demonstrated that vitamin supplementation failed to decrease the chance of developing cancer.

The sidebar table, which summarized results and included the journal name and month of publication, provided a resource for interested readers to find more information. 

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


Does not appear to rely on a press release.

Total Score: 8 of 10 Satisfactory


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