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FITNESS HEALTH NATURAL-BEAUTY

Harvard Health Ad Watch: Why are toilets everywhere in this drug ad?

A white toilet placed on an angle against a white background

If the first goal of a drug advertisement is to grab your attention, this ad for Entyvio (vedolizumab) works.

You see a young woman getting into her car, sitting in her work cubicle, sitting in a restaurant, and finally in the waiting room of her doctor’s office. But she’s not sitting on the seat of the car or on a chair; in every scene, she’s sitting on the lid of a toilet.

Strange, right?

Why all the toilets?

The voiceover provides a clue: “When you live with moderate or severe Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, your day can be full of reminders of your condition. Never knowing, always wondering.” And there’s another hint: the woman keeps grimacing and clutching her belly.

But these clues may not be enough. What’s never explained in this ad is that abdominal pain and sudden diarrhea are among the most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, conditions known collectively as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The “never knowing, always wondering” refers to the way people with these conditions often have unpredictable bouts of diarrhea and an urgent need to get to a restroom. And that’s why there are toilets everywhere.

What does this ad get right?

The ad provides useful information about:

  • How this treatment works. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two forms of IBD that cause inflammation of the intestinal tract. Given as an infusion every two months, vedolizumab works by blocking cells involved in that inflammation. The ad uses visually appealing animations and graphics to get these points across.
  • Side effects. The FDA requires every drug ad to describe common and potentially serious side effects. For vedolizumab, possible side effects include infusion reactions, allergic reactions, liver problems, and an increased susceptibility to infection. The ad highlights an infection called PML, noting that it’s “a rare, serious, potentially fatal brain infection.”
  • Benefits. The voiceover states that “in clinical trials, Entyvio helped many people achieve long-term relief and remission.”

What else do you need to know?

As with most drug ads, this ad doesn’t provide all the information that’s important to know about this medication, especially if you’re a person with IBD for whom this drug might be helpful.

For starters, the ad never explains that diarrhea and abdominal pain are among the most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. And while the ad focuses on frequent diarrhea, it never mentions more serious complications, such as

  • bleeding, fistulas (abnormal connections between the intestines and other parts of the body), perforation of the bowel, and bowel blockage 
  • an increased risk of colorectal cancer
  • inflammation in other parts of the body, including joints and eyes.

The ad also omits:

  • Explaining how moderate to severe Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis is defined. Generally, it would include people with either condition who have large areas of intestinal inflammation, deep ulcers in the walls of the intestines, or who have had surgery; and those who haven’t responded to other standard treatments.
  • Other ways to treat Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Steroids, azathioprine, infliximab, ustekinumab, risankizumab, and other drugs are also options to treat these disorders. 
  • The high cost of this drug (up to $52,000/year). For some, health insurance may cover much of this cost, and a discount program is mentioned at the end of the ad (though eligibility details are not provided). Still, for many people with IBD, the cost of expensive drugs like Entyvio is a major barrier to receiving optimal care.

Also troubling is the way the ad skims over two important points:

  • Little information is provided about PML. The ad doesn’t even say what the letters stand for: progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. PML is a virus that can infect the brain, often causing death or severe neurologic disease.
  • What benefits does the drug deliver? Only one sentence speaks confidently about benefits, and no details are provided. How often people do taking this drug have at least some relief from their symptoms? How often do they experience remission of symptoms? And how long do these improvements last?

The bottom line

The ad ends with the young woman driving home after her doctor’s visit. She’s sitting on a regular seat for the first time. She glances at the rearview mirror and smiles at the toilet that’s been relegated to the back of the car. The message is clear: she’s better now and doesn’t have to worry about having to rush to the toilet since her doctor prescribed vedolizumab.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out this way in real life. Then again, drug ads aren’t intended to show real life. They’re intended to promote a product. That’s a good reason to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism about drug ads, and to rely instead on your doctor and other unbiased sources for your health information, such as the National Institutes of Health websites.

About the Author

photo of Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School. … See Full Bio View all posts by Robert H. Shmerling, MD

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FITNESS HEALTH NATURAL-BEAUTY

Prostate cancer: A new type of radiation treatment limits risk of side effects

photo of a radiologist talking to a senior man about to have a scan for prostate cancer

When it comes to limiting side effects from radiation therapy, the name of the game is precision. Doctors want to treat the cancer while avoiding healthy tissues, and fortunately technological advances are making that increasingly possible.

One newer technique called stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) can focus precisely targeted beams of high-dose radiation on a tumor from almost any direction.

The entire course of therapy requires only five individual treatments over two weeks, making SBRT more convenient than earlier low-dose methods that require more visits to the clinic. The treatment relies on specialized types of medical imaging scans that allow doctors to visualize where cancer exists in the body.

Advances in technology

Recently, doctors have begun to integrate SBRT with imaging scans that can visualize a tumor's movements in real time. Simple acts such as breathing, swallowing, or digesting food can shift a tumor's position. But this new technique — which is called magnetic resonance–guided daily adaptive SBRT, or MRg-A-SBRT for short — continually adjusts for those motions, so that doctors can focus more precisely on their targets.

Now, a new study helps to confirm that MRg-A-SBRT has fewer side effects than a related method called CT-SBRT, which uses computed tomography for imaging.

According to the study's lead author, Dr. Jonathan Leeman, a radiation oncologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MRg-A-SBRT offers several advantages over CT-SBRT: one is that doctors using it can adjust treatment plans to account for a tumor's daily motions (this is called adaptive planning). The technology collects multiple MRI images per second during a radiation procedure, thus ensuring accurate real-time targeting. And finally, MRI visualizes the prostate with better resolution.

Analysis of studies

During the new study, Dr. Leeman and his colleagues searched the medical literature for every published clinical trial so far evaluating SBRT for prostate cancer, either with MRI or CT guidance. (This type of study is called a systematic review.)

The team ultimately identified 29 clinical trials that monitored outcomes for a total of over 2,500 patients. Short-term data on side effects was collected for up to three months on average after the procedures were completed.

Leeman's team used statistical methods to pool results from the studies into combined datasets. They found that the MR-SBRT-treated patients had fewer side effects. Specifically, 5% to 33% of men treated with MR-SBRT had genitourinary side effects, compared to between 9% and 47% of men who had the CT-guided treatments. Similarly, the risk of gastrointestinal side effects in the MR-SBRT-treated men ranged from 0% to 8%, compared to between 2% and 23% among men whose treatments were guided by CT.

Conclusions and comments

The authors concluded that "technical advances in precision radiotherapy delivery afforded by MRg-A-SBRT translate to measurable clinical benefit" (i.e., better tolerated treatments). But precisely why the treatments were better tolerated remains unclear. Is it because MR-scanning has better resolution? Did adaptive planning (and real-time targeting) account for the lower risk of side effects, or can that be attributed to some combination of all these factors? Dr. Leeman says that adaptive planning is "likely the main differentiator," but he adds that further studies are needed to confirm where the benefits come from.

To place this important work in perspective, we reached out to the authors of the new paper, as well as Dr. Anthony Zietman and Dr. Nima Aghdam, two Harvard-affiliated radiation oncologists who are also on the editorial board of the Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Diseases. All these experts feel this new technology has very promising potential.

But both groups cautioned that as with all newly developed innovations, results from additional studies — including clinical trials that are currentlyongoing — will be needed before more widespread uptake of the technology is warranted. Dr. Marc B. Garnick, the Gorman Brothers Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says he "agrees with this conservative, yet optimistic assessment."

About the Author

photo of Charlie Schmidt

Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Diseases

Charlie Schmidt is an award-winning freelance science writer based in Portland, Maine. In addition to writing for Harvard Health Publishing, Charlie has written for Science magazine, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Environmental Health Perspectives, … See Full Bio View all posts by Charlie Schmidt

About the Reviewer

photo of Marc B. Garnick, MD

Marc B. Garnick, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Diseases; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Marc B. Garnick is an internationally renowned expert in medical oncology and urologic cancer. A clinical professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, he also maintains an active clinical practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical … See Full Bio View all posts by Marc B. Garnick, MD