The article describes a new study in which taking large doses of components found in curry powder and onion appear to be associated with a lower risk of developing colon cancer in high risk people. The story would have been improved if it had described the strength of the study upon which conclusions are based. Readers don’t know whether the results are from a randomized, controlled trial or from a less powerful study. The study was also of short duration and was conducted among very few participants and readers are not cautioned about interpreting these results. Other areas for improvement include presenting benefits in absolute vs. relative rates, discussing side effects (other than to claim there are no “serious” side effects), obtaining independent sources of information, providing cost info, and providing some estimate of when or if these pills would be available to the general public.
The article does not describe costs of the pills, not even a projection of an estimate of what they might cost.
Absolute rates of treatment benefits are not provided; rather relative rates are (e.g. a 60% reduction in number and a 50% reduction in size). In addition, the study was conducted in people who have familial adenomatous polyposis, a relatively rare condition associated with high risk of colon cancer. It is not clear that the findings would pertain to colon polyps or colon cancer risk in the general population.
The article does not describe side effects of treatment, except to state that there were no “serious side effects.” Even a Johns Hopkins news release described side effects: “One patient reported slight nausea and sour taste within a couple of hours of taking the pill, which went away within three days, and a second patient had mild diarrhea for five days.” The story should leave it to the readers to decide whether a side effect is serioius or not to them.
There is no mention of the strength of the evidence, either of the latest study or of previous studies. Readers don’t know whether the findings are based on the gold standard in research – a randomized clinical trial – or are based on observational studies. There are no cautions about interpreting the data which were obtained from observations in just 5 patients.
There is a little information about familial adenomatous polyposis, the condition that people being studied had, but not much. Still, there isn’t any obvious evidence of misrepresenting the natural history or of disease mongering.
Apparently no independent sources of information were used. The only source cited is the lead author.
The article mentions non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as another treatment option, which is relevant because that option also involves taking a pill. However, the article could be more comprehensive by mentioning colon cancer screening and removal of polyps.
The article does not describe if pills containing large doses of curcumin and quercetin are currently available or when they might be available, either over-the-counter or by prescription.
The pills would appear to be a new treatment option, if more studies confirm the benefits and harms.
We can’t be sure if the story relied solely or largely on a news release. What is clear is that only one source was cited in the story.