Maybe the disconnect between journalist and reader is best (worst) seen in this line from the story: "The group of statins that showed the greatest effect in reducing risk are classified as lipophilic." All statins are lipophilic. And the story gave readers no definition, no explanation of what lipophilic even means. So it’s like a high school term paper where the student slips in big words to impress the teacher.
Readers should not be impressed.
Over and over again we see the same flaws in health care journalism stories. These are not just academic issues. These flaws expose stories that simply fail to communicate vital information to readers.
Even though both brand name and generic versions of statin medication are available, there was no information about costs in this story. Why this is so – in a story that suggests a possible future expanded market for these already widely-used drugs, is a puzzle.
The story reported the more impressive-sounding relative risk reduction (i.e. "The analysis shows there was a 12% reduction of colorectal cancer risk among statin users.") rather than indicating absolute risk reduction. This is such an important issue – so often misunderstood – that we offer a little primer on the topic.
Just as bothersome, the story really whiffed on the opportunity to explain the limitations of observational studies, and in so doing, it may have confused many readers. The headline says "may cut risk." But the first line says both "significant association" and "reduced risk." Wait a minute! Which is it? An association? Or an established cause-and-effect piece of evidence? Readers should have been told that observational studies CAN’T establish cause and effect. So the story is wrong to use language like "may cut risk" or "reduced risk" in the headline and in the first sentence.
There was no mention of potential harms associated with the use of statin medication. That’s a significant omission.
The story was very clear that the results reported on were from a presentation at a meeting and as such had not undergone ‘peer review’. This was not done in the Reuters story on the same study. This caveat – at the end of such stories – has become boilerplate language for WebMD and we applaud them for it.
No disease-mongering in this story.
No independent expert voices appeared in the story.
There was no discussion of other factors that influence risk of colon cancer. It would require only a line in the story to do so.
There isn’t any question about the availability of statins.
The story did not provide insight about the historical context for this work. For example, there are studies dating back 20 years raising questions about whether this class of medication influences cancer risk.
The story admits that it pulled its quotes from a news release? Why? And why no interview quotes from an independent expert?