Study: Cancer Drug Websites More Likely to Offer Data on Benefits Than Risks

Posted 12 September 2016 | By Michael Mezher 

Study: Cancer Drug Websites More Likely to Offer Data on Benefits Than Risks

Researchers from the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) and research firm RTI International say that websites for cancer-drugs are ten times more likely to include quantitative information about all the benefits of a drug versus all its risks.

To conduct their study, the researchers looked at 65 websites for currently available branded cancer-related drugs (57 oncology treatments and eight drugs that treat related side effects) that contained information for both patients and healthcare providers.

"Our objective was to determine whether and how quantitative information about drug benefits and risks is presented to consumers and healthcare providers on cancer-related prescription drug websites," the researchers write.

While the authors found the websites were equally likely to offer quantitative information about both the benefits (96.9%) and risks (95.4%) of the drugs they discussed, the amount of each type of information differed significantly.

For consumer oriented websites, the researchers found that 38.5% contained quantitative data on the full list of benefits, compared to only 3.1% that offered quantitative data on all the drugs' risks. For professional oriented websites the figures were 86.1% and 6.2%, respectively.

While the researchers say this signals some concerns, as recent studies "have shown that adding quantitative information about drug benefits and risks improves consumer understanding," they note that the websites were still more likely than print advertisements for cancer-related drugs to display quantitative information.

However, the researchers also found that websites were more likely to include relative figures for a drug's benefits compared to its risks.

This poses an issue, they say, as "relative risks can cause individuals to overestimate effects [which] may lead consumers and healthcare professionals to overestimate the benefits of a drug."


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