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Wyeth Seeks to Sell Birth-Control Pill That Ends Periods

Rating

2 Star

Wyeth Seeks to Sell Birth-Control Pill That Ends Periods

Our Review Summary

This article discusses a new approach to birth control pills that would eliminate monthly menstrual bleeding altogether. A similar product that reduces menstrual bleeding to 4 times per year is already on the market. This story provides some useful context to explain why traditional birth control pills have a pill-free monthly phase when menstrual bleeding occurs. However, the article seems to have relied heavily on statements from a representative of the pill’s manufacturer–seeking input from more than one independent expert would have made the claims more balanced and credible.

It’s not clear from the article what kind of studies were done in support of the new pill’s FDA application. What kind of pills was the new version compared with? What was the experience of women who took the comparison pills–how different were the numbers of women who stopped having periods, or who started having them again when they quit taking the pills? This information would help readers evaluate whether the new pill really does offer advantages over current products. Similar information about what’s known about the new pill’s harms would also be helpful.

And just how big of a problem is monthly menstrual bleeding in women who take birth control pills? The story suggests that eliminating it might help women be more productive in the workplace–but cites no data to back up that statement, which seems like disease mongering. Women may be surprised to hear that doctors believe there’s no reason why they should have to put up with monthly periods while they’re on the pill–and they may have had more confidence in that assertion if the story had cited more independent experts who agree. This new approach to birth control pills may well offer significant advantages, without additional harms, to some women–but if that’s the case, there should be plenty of experts–not to mention women–who agree.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story mentions potential cost savings for women who take the new birth control pill, which is intended to eliminate monthly menstrual-like bleeding, but the cost of the drug itself is not noted. The basis for a claim that the drug may also improve women’s work productivity is not clear either.

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

Not Satisfactory

The article notes the percentage of women who took the new pill and stopped having periods–but it does not note how often this happens in women who take currently available pills. It’s also not clear how long the pill was taken by women who resumed menstruating after they stopped taking it–and how it compares with the experience of women who take traditional pills.

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

Not Satisfactory

Harms of “all” birth control pills are noted, but no numbers provided. The story doesn’t mention whether these harms happened to similar numbers of women in trials of the new pill. The story would have been more balanced if it had quoted an independent expert discussing the real or perceived potential harms.

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

Not Satisfactory

There’s no mention of the type of studies that were done in support of the new birth control pill, what type of pill it was compared with, and how the experience of women who took the comparison pills differed from that of women who took the new version.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

While some women may indeed prefer no bleeding to the lighter, shorter ‘periods’ that are common in those who take traditional birth control pills, no evidence is cited to support this. it would have been interesting to hear from an expert as to whether this new approach is medicalizing a relatively normal bodily function. The suggestion that eliminating monthly menstrual bleeding might improve workplace productivity seems to come close to exaggerating the human consequences of this natural process.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story appears to have relied largely on statements from a representative of the drug manufacturer. An additional expert is cited, but it’s not noted whether this person has any affiliation with the drug maker.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The article noted that some doctors may prescribe continous use of traditional pills, which can eliminate monthly periods; however, it doesn’t mention whether any other reversible birth control methods may have similar effects.

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

Not Satisfactory

The article states that the drug maker has applied to FDA for approval, and expects a response by the end of June. The story also claims that the new birth control pill could be on the market by year’s end. However, there is no independent source cited in support of these claims. The trail of past baseless predictions of FDA approval and market availability is long.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story explains that while the concept is fairly new, this particular product is not the first of its kind.

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

Satisfactory

The article cites one independent expert, and so does not appear to have relied exclusively on a press release.

Total Score: 3 of 10 Satisfactory

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