Health News Review

An excellent story, addressing most major points of extended tamoxifen breast cancer treatment research while incorporating clear, clean writing.  Better than the competing AP and USA Today stories.

Our Review Summary

Also longer than the competing AP and USA Today stories, coming in at more than 1,000 words – an increasingly rarer but appreciated treat in journalism these days.

The story makes a good point missing from the USA Today article – that many women who are premenopausal at the time of diagnosis may pass through menopause by the time they finish tamoxifen or experience early menopause as a result of chemotherapy.  This is an important point in trying to weigh how beneficial the extra treatment really is for premenopausal women.


Why This Matters

Scientific evidence should be the basis of decision-making in breast cancer treatment; good practice can only follow good science, and this study adds to the body of treatment evidence.


Criteria

Satisfactory

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

Description of benefits was adequate.  Absolute differences between the treatment groups was provided – although AP’s story broke it down a little bit farther and better for lay readers with this line:  “In absolute terms, continuing on tamoxifen kept three additional women out of every 100 from dying of brest cancer within five to 14 years from when their disease was diagnosed.”

Satisfactory

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story quantified the risk of endometrial cancer and pulmonary blood clots.

This was the only one of the three stories that we reviewed that picked up on the high dropout rate in the study – an important addition:

“In the Atlas trial, it appears that roughly 40 percent of the patients assigned to take tamoxifen for the additional five years stopped prematurely.”

 

Satisfactory

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

Clearly, evenly presented and referenced.

One observation: as the story noted, about 40% of patients assigned to take tamoxifen stopped prematurely.  This could have an impact on the results of this study and we would like to have seen more discussion about limitations of the results.

Satisfactory

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No evidence of disease-mongering.

Satisfactory

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

Excellent use of sources.  A variety of researchers, clinicians, and a patient were represented.

The story clearly stated that AstraZeneca, which makes a form of tamoxifen, helped finance the study.

Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

This comparison was brief but adequate.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story indicates the drug has been available, studied, and inexpensive.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

This criterion was adequately addressed as the new additional information provided by this study was made clear.

Satisfactory

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

It is clear that this story did not rely on a news release.

Total Score: 10 of 10 Satisfactory


Comments

Pat Battaglia posted on December 10, 2012 at 10:47 am

The inherent variables of breast cancer, compounded by individual differences among those diagnosed, ensure that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the disease. This article addresses the subset of breast cancers to which the results of this study apply, as well as the questions it raises for those who fall within other subsets. As one who was put into menopause by chemotherapy for breast cancer, and who chose to end hormonal treatment after five years because of side effects (knowing I had the option to continue), I appreciate the balance presented here. My choice was right for me; others might have chosen differently given the same set of conditions. There are no easy answers. The fact that an article like this has hit the mainstream has me optimistic that the reality of breast cancer’s complexity is becoming more commonly accepted.

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