BMJ 1994; 309 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.309.6950.350 (Published 30 July 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:350

Minerva doesn't believe that healthy people benefit from taking vitamins, so she was pleased to read the results of a four year trial of ß carotene, vitamins C and E, both, and placebo in the prevention of colorectal adenomas (New England Journal of Medicine 1994;331:141- 7). No differences were found among the groups - a result in line with a report earlier this year showing that vitamins didn't prevent lung cancer either.

Health enthusiasts in the United States are complaining that these reports conflict with earlier studies; they are asking, says the “New England Journal of Medicine” in an accompanying editorial (1994;331:189-90), “Why can't researchers get it straight the first time?” The answer given by the journal is that it publishes working papers, not received wisdom. It might have added that often (but not invariably) the media rather than the scientists claim the dramatic breakthroughs.

As a treatment for breast cancer, lumpectomy plus radiotherapy is known to give as good results as mastectomy, yet more than half the surgeons recently questioned in the United States continued to recommend mastectomy to their patients (Mayo Clinic Proceedings 1994;69:601-2). Review of records at …

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