Cancer Drug Websites May Overstate Benefits, Minimize Risks

Websites from pharmaceutical companies that promote cancer drugs are much more likely to provide data that backs up claims about the medications’ benefit while providing scant details about the risks associated with them.

The FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion, along with RTI International, examined 65 websites –- 57 from brand oncology drugs, and 8 from medications that treat related side effects. While almost all of the sites provided quantitative data on both the benefits and the risks, the amount of data for each varied greatly.

For direct-to-consumer websites, 38.5% contained quantitative data on all of the benefits, but only 3.1% provided such data on all the drugs’ risks, the researchers reported in the Journal of Cancer Education. For websites geared towards healthcare providers, the figures were, respectively, 86.1% and 6.2%.

The researchers noted that that websites were also much more likely than print ads to provide numbers on benefits versus risks, a move that could potentially overstate the benefits of a drug to consumers.

“Research has shown that using quantitative information to communicate treatment benefits and risks can increase patients’ and physicians’ understanding and can aid in treatment decision-making,” the authors wrote.


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