The story never answers the provocative question asked in the headline. The whole premise of the research – and of the story – is an intermediate endpoint – a surrogate marker – not a real outcome about how men feel and how long they survive. That’s not to say that the research isn’t important. But what does it mean to any man right now?
Yet the story doesn’t challenge one MD who says he recommends pomegranate juice extract or juice “a lot.”
The key take home point was delivered by the Sloan Kettering expert: “For starters, it’s never been proven that slowing down the PSA doubling time improves a patient’s prognosis.” But that may have been lost in the enthusiasm fostered by the lead researcher and by another MD quoted.
No discussion of costs for pomegranate-containing products.
This is the crux of our criticism.
The story states: “At the start of the study, the men’s PSA levels were doubling every 12 months. After six months of taking the capsules, it took 19 months for their PSA levels to double.”
As one independent expert points out, “it’s never been proven that slowing down the PSA doubling time improves a patient’s prognosis.”
So why the headline suggesting that the pills fight prostate cancer?
The story also should have reported whether the differences between the groups were statistically significant and/or clinically meaningful.
The story stated: “However, men who took three pills daily were more likely to suffer mild to moderate diarrhea: 14% vs. 2% of those who took one pill.”
Quotes from a Sloan-Kettering expert save the day – providing the only evaluation of the evidence given in the story.
And we do appreciate WebMD’s boilerplate language at the end:
“These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the “peer review” process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.”
However, the story could have provided the insight that the effect observed with pomegranate could be a placebo effect. .
What is disease-mongering here is that this story came from the same conference where this week researchers were talking about active surveillance and how “We’re identifying men who are not likely to need even a pill,” yet this story never mentioned that not all early stage prostate cancers are the same but reported on questionable evidence for still another pill that men might take.
The input from the Sloan-Kettering expert saved the story.
And the story did disclose that the lead author “is an unpaid consultant to POM Wonderful, which makes both the pomegranate capsules and the juice used in the earlier study.”
The story could have at least included a line about other research exploring other ways to prevent prostate cancer or slow its progression. It also could have provided information about active surveillance.
The story never explained whether capsules containing pomegranate extract are available.
Barely satisfactory. The story at least notes earlier research: “In 2009, other researchers reported that pomegranate juice may also prevent prostate cancer from getting worse.” But it didn’t evaluate the quality of that evidence either.
It’s clear that the story did not rely on a news release.