Do You Believe What You Read in the Newspapers?

Christopher Lukas Health Guide
  • Given the attacks on the press, lately, it would not be surprising if you answered this in the negative.

    On the other hand, if you grew up without television – as I did – and most of your news came from newspapers and magazines, why wouldn’t you believe what you read?

    And why would you believe your grandmother or television and not believe newspapers?

    And what about the Internet: would you believe something on a .com or a .org more than what’s in the papers or magazines or television? If so, why?

    All this came to mind recently because I found several press reports that alternately jarred, or supported, some of the closest-held views on prostate cancer.
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    For years, there have been rumors about a whole variety of ways to prevent or cure prostate cancer, using non-prescription (or alternative) medicines, or what are unkindly called, “folk remedies.” For instance, you may have heard that saw palmetto is – or is not – good for your benignly enlarged or not benignly cancerous prostate. I have acquaintances who swear by it. The National Cancer Institute, however, has recently published a New England Journal of Medicine report that says that saw palmetto is no better than a placebo for benign enlargement; and they have proved nothing one way or the other on its effect on cancer. Some day, perhaps, but not at the present, they may have results from studies. So, do you believe your friends, the many .com reports about its “efficacy,” the newspapers, or the NCI? I’m voting on the NCI.

    What about lycopene, one of the antioxidants found in tomatoes, especially tomato sauce? Many internet and printed reports stress that lycopene has been shown to reduce the likelihood of getting prostate cancer, or having it recur. In fact, I was persuaded by one newspaper that this had been shown to be true beyond doubt.

    HOWEVER, my recent reading of the NCI site informs me that any suggestion that eating a lot of tomato sauce will prevent prostate cancer is premature; that studies are iffy at best on this subject. What the NCI does say is that eating red and yellow fruits and vegetables is good for our health. But we knew that already, didn’t we!

    Finally, let’s take pomegranate juice. A New York Times article recently surprised me by stating that a test of 48 men had shown that pomegranate juice was useful in reducing the chance of getting prostate cancer again after surgery or radiation. Yippee, I thought. That’s for me. It tastes good and sells over the counter in supermarkets. But I noticed a cautionary note at the bottom of the article. One of the experts consulted said the study was too small, and too preliminary, to be authoritative. In other words: hold on. Don’t gorge on the stuff (unless you really love it) until more studies are done. Cancer experts on the web said the same thing.

    One nurse told me that I shouldn’t believe anything on a .com, but should trust .org sites, because they’re nonprofit. I think that’s going too far. Someone on a .com (this one, for instance) can do research and get the truth out. Can’t they?

  • Okay, how do you know if what you read in the papers or hear on TV or scan on the web is true or false? What’s a fellow to do about sorting fact from fiction?
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    Well, here’s what I do: I check everything I read about cancer by going to both the National Cancer Institute site and the American Cancer Society. I read professional, not just patient information. Then, I use my judgment.
Published On: September 06, 2006