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Fish Oil Linked to Lower Breast Cancer Risk


4 Star

Fish Oil Linked to Lower Breast Cancer Risk

Our Review Summary

The story missed an opportunity to explain the inherent limitations in drawing conclusions from such an observational study.  And its use of relative risk reduction figures is bothersome.  Why not just give the absolute numbers from each group in the study? That would be far more meaningful and helpful.


Why This Matters

There could be boilerplate language that stories could use to start to educate readers about what observational studies CAN’T PROVE.  In fact, we suggest some in a primer elsewhere on this site


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  Not discussed, but it should be general knowledge that they’re relatively inexpensive.

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

Not Satisfactory

Only relative risk reduction figures were used – "32% reduced risk."  But readers should be told "32% of what?"  What were the actual absolute numbers in the group that took the supplements versus the numbers in the group that didn’t take the supplements.  Why is that so difficult to include?  It would be far more meaningful than 32%.

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

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  No harms were discussed but this is not a serious issue in this case.

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

Not Satisfactory

One good thing was the quote: "There is some limited evidence from my study and others that fish oil may be good for preventing breast cancer, but there is not sufficient evidence to make a public health recommendation right now," cautions study researcher Emily White, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

However, the story missed an opportunity to ever explain WHY a study like this is insufficient evidence.  It never explained the inherent limitations in drawing conclusions from an observational study – something this story’s HealthDay competition did a better job on.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No overt disease mongering.

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


Four different sources were quoted – a strength of the story.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


At the very least, the story included the fact that "Other supplements were not linked to breast cancer risk in the new study, including black cohosh, dong quai, soy, and St. John’s wort, which are often taken to relieve some of the symptoms of menopause."

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

Not Applicable

The availability of fish oil supplements is not in question.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


We were given some context by the following quotes:

  • Other studies have not found a link between eating more fatty fish and breast cancer risk, but it may be that the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements is much higher than what is typically found in the diet.


  • "This study is one of the largest studies that have come out showing that there may be role for fish oil in the prevention of cancer, specifically breast cancer," says Lorenzo Cohen, MD, director of the Integrative Medicine Program and chief of the section of integrative medicine in the department of general oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

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


It’s clear that the story did not rely solely on a news release.

Total Score: 5 of 7 Satisfactory


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