NY Times and NBC Flip-Flop on Cancer Drugs
The â€™80s song â€śI Want a New Drugâ€ť might as well be the soundtrack for The New York Times and NBC. Both media have dramatically changed the tune on two prescription drugs they once hailed as â€śbreakthroughsâ€ť and â€śpromising new treatments.â€ť
On July 12, the news outlets reversed their 1998 positions on cancer drugs raloxifene and tamoxifen. Eight years ago the drugs were lauded, but now these are â€śdangerous drugs,â€ť according to one cancer patient who wonâ€™t even take them.
On May 26, 1998, the Times raised the hopes of cancer victims, saying, â€śFor weeks, a barrage of good news about cancer in people has come from scientists and public health officials.â€ť The article, titled â€śGood News from the Front in the War Against Cancer,â€ť went on to catalogue the benefits of raloxifene and tamoxifen. Dr. Lawrence K. Altman, the articleâ€™s author, said tamoxifen reduced the risk of developing breast cancer by 45 percent in one study of high-risk women.
Altman cited another study that claimed raloxifene could â€średuce the risk of breast cancer without raising the risk of uterine cancer, a side effect of tamoxifen.â€ť He also admonished society to do more â€śto make new or experimental treatments availableâ€ť to cancer patients, including treatments involving the two drugs. Additionally, Altmanâ€™s upbeat story said some forms of cancer might soon become nothing more than â€śmanageable chronic diseases.â€ť
But on July 12, 2006, in an about face, the Times published an Associated Press article that now emphasized the risks of raloxifene. The article claimed that raloxifene did not â€ślower the risk of death, hospitalization or heart attack.â€ť The AP piece said the risks associated with taking raloxifene were more difficult to treat than the cancer it would be preventing.
The article quoted a federal study saying that those on the drug had a 49-percent greater risk of having a fatal stroke than those on a placebo. The article quoted Stanford School of Medicine disease prevention researcher Marcia Stefanick saying the prevention benefits were moderate and did not justify the risks of taking raloxifene.
NBC made a similar switch, extolling the benefits of these drugs before using scare tactics regarding the drugsâ€™ risks. In May 1998, both raloxifene and tamoxifen made several appearances on NBC. On the May 19, 1998, â€śToday,â€ť NBCâ€™s Ann Curry said, â€śThere is even more promising news in the fight against breast cancer today. At a medical meeting in Los Angeles, two drugs are reported to dramatically reduce the risk.â€ť Curry was speaking of raloxifene and tamoxifen.
The previous day on NBCâ€™s â€śNightly News,â€ť Tom Brokaw told viewers they werenâ€™t alone if they couldnâ€™t keep up with all the â€śbreakthroughsâ€ť in breast cancer treatment. â€śThereâ€™s a great deal of exciting news,â€ť he said before going on to talk about raloxifene, the â€ścompletely new way of treating breast cancer.â€ť
On the same day, NBCâ€™s â€śDatelineâ€ť raised womenâ€™s hopes when its chief medical correspondent claimed â€śthe arrival of a drug like raloxifene means they may be able to do more than just worry about developing breast cancer. They may be able to something about it.â€ť In the same show Dr. Bob Arnot, chief medical correspondent, stated that â€śraloxifene also lowers blood cholesterol.â€ť
But the honeymoon appeared to be over for these cancer drugs when on July 12, 2006, Robert Bazell of NBCâ€™s â€śNightly Newsâ€ť reported on the purported risks of raloxifene. The network had once bestowed praise on these drugs, but this time all Bazell could say was, â€śthe effects of estrogen are complicated and varied.â€ť