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Wonder drug

Published: 12:55PM Friday September 03, 2010 Source: Sunday

What common medication has just been proved to significantly reduce the risk of women prematurely dying of all causes? It costs drug companies about two cents a dose.

If taken over a life time its claimed it significantly reduces the risk of all cancers, all circulatory disease, heart disease; and all other diseases. A study of around 46,000 women, over 39 years, proves compellingly this drug, previously thought harmful actually saves lives, in significant numbers.

PRODUCER - Steve Butler
CAMERA - Ken Dorman
EDITOR - Will Kong

Professor Kenneth McNatty, who featured in our story, answers queries raised by some viewers:

The most important aspect of the BMJ study is that all the data are presented with the 95% confidence limits with the number of observations being very large indeed (39 years of data on 46,000 women relating to 1200000 years of health records). In this context, one cannot dispute the quality of information. What people can legitimately do is question Hannaford's interpretations in the Discussion section of the publication. I spent a lot of time reviewing the discussion looking for bias and/or comments that ignored weaknesses in the data. I concluded that all the caveats regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the results were addressed. I couldn't find any serious misrepresentations. Importantly, Hannaford et al, did not ignore the ongoing issues about the "potential" risks to women below aged 40 years nor did they promote any strong recommendations about revising current practices with respect to contraceptive usage. I therefore believe one cannot criticise Hannaford of poor science, bias or inaccurate interpretation of the data. This does not mean there are other interpretations but they need to be logical and avoid personality: I don't see strong evidence for this.

Read the British Medical Journal study, referred to in our story.

And for more information about the contraceptive pill read this, accessed from the World Health Organisation website.

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