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BuzzFeed story on IUDs and cervical cancer warns readers ‘these are observational studies’


3 Star


IUDs Are Linked To A Lower Cervical Cancer Risk, Study Finds

Our Review Summary

This is a story reporting results of a systematic review of studies about the relationship of IUDs to cervical cancer. After combing through multiple studies, the researchers identified 16 high-quality studies. Evidence in those studies indicated women with IUDs are 30% less likely to get cervical cancer, the story said.

But we wanted to know: 30% less than what? What is the incident rate in women with IUDs — and women without them? To its credit, the story points out that these were observational studies, meaning they weren’t actual clinical trials, and more evidence is needed before women should make the decision to get an IUD just as a way of preventing cervical cancer.


Why This Matters

The results of this research reaffirm earlier studies suggesting that there is a reduced risk of cervical cancer associated with the use of IUD’s. However, until an experimental trial is conducted, readers should take the findings with a grain of salt.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The exact cost of an IUD wasn’t mentioned in the story, but it did allude to the low cost of the product. The story also missed an opportunity to articulate the economic issues associated with HPV vaccine availability, namely the manufacturing cost of the vaccines and the profitability focus of the pharmaceutical industry.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story explained that women who used an IUD were 30% less likely to develop cervical cancer but did not provide any quantification of that number. Readers need to know: 30% less than what? The incidence of the disease would have improved the story and placed the 30% reduction into perspective. There are approximately 400-500,000 case of cervical cancer diagnosed annually with a 50% death rate overall worldwide.  The incidence of the disease varies widely with an incidence of approximately 16/100,000 in developing countries compared to approximately 10/100,000 in the developed world.

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

Not Satisfactory

Although this story did a great job on most counts, it didn’t mention potential harms of IUDs. Cramping, spotting between periods, and heavier periods are all possible side effects. The bigger issue that the story could have mentioned, though, is that IUDs don’t protect against other STIs.

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


The writer was careful to quote the authors of the study about the limitations of the quality of evidence. This was a synthesis of previously existing evidence, all of which were observational studies. Observational studies can demonstrate that two things are associated, but they don’t prove that one causes another. That is, they can suggest correlation, but not causality. That came across clearly.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No disease mongering here. Cervical cancer kills hundreds of thousands of women across the world every year.

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

Not Satisfactory

Unfortunately, the story depended on quotes only from the lead author of the study. Verification of the significance of study findings by an independent expert would have strengthened credibility of the story.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story did a good job of comparing IUDs to vaccines and regular screening, even going into the details of when and how often each of those should occur, and making it clear that IUDs are not yet a proven option for cervical cancer prevention.

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


IUDs have been available to women for decades. The only issue the story might have considered further is how available they are in low-income nations where vaccines and regular screening are not accessible to many women.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


This story reported the findings of a systematic review. That means it’s not going to be breaking news. What it does, though, is to synthesize existing research and make clear exactly what the state of current knowledge about the topic is.

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


The author appears to have interviewed the lead author of the study in addition to reading the news release. The story also quotes statistics from the World Health Organization.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory


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