20 April 2007

Hormone Replacement Therapy Alarmism--Mind the Hype

Mainstream journalists are typically incompetent in reporting scientific and medical findings. A good example is a recent TIMES ONLINE headline: HRT Alert After More Than 1,000 Women Die.
Women were advised yesterday to think “very carefully” about taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after evidence was published showing that it has killed 1,000 women in Britain since 1991 by increasing their risk of ovarian cancer.

HRT increases the risk of the disease by 20 per cent, the biggest investigation of links between HRT and cancer has found. Although the absolute risk is low, millions of women took HRT in the 1990s and so the total impact is large: an extra 1,300 cases of the disease and 1,000 deaths between 1991 and 2005, according to the Million Women Study.

The Times bases its "20%" increase in risk on the relative risk attributed to HRT for ovarian cancer by the Million Women Study in Britain, 1.2. (see also here) A relative risk of 1.2 is generally seen by most epidemiologists as not significant, given the large number of potential confounders in this type of study.

The excellent number auditor Numberwatch also has some serious concerns about the history of the study author, and the hyperbolic conclusions attached to the study results.

Many thousands of newsworthy stories go unreported in the mainstream news every day, yet "journalists" feel it necessary to report pseudostories as if they were major breaking news. Perhaps mainstream media should require journalists who report on science and medicine to actually be trained in science and medicine? That approach may very well reduce some of the more egregious blunderings. Unfortunately the hyper-partisan political approach of most of the media virtually guarantees that this sort of nonsense will continue for the indefinite future.


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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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