The story employed very careful presentation of both the promise and the potential limitations of two new prostate cancer gene tests.
Until recently, the PSA test was routinely used as a screening instrument for prostate cancer resulting in millions of men suddenly facing a set of interesting choices. If the PSA is elevated, should a biopsy be performed? If so, how reliable is the Gleason scoring system in predicting the risk of spread and death? Because of uncertainty, many men undergo potentially needless surgical procedures rather than perhaps watchful waiting. A new and potentially more reliable test to determine the aggressiveness of the tumor type in concert with a Gleason score or as a replacement would be welcomed. A reliable predictive test of risk of death from prostate cancer would add considerably to the decision process.
One line from the story captures the essence of why this matters:
“Doctors say tests like these have the potential to curb a major problem in cancer care — overtreatment.”
The cost of the new test – and of one that recently came on the market – were listed (> $3,000 each). And the story explained it’s not known if insurers will pay for the tests.
The story carefully framed the potential benefits – “could triple the number of men thought to e at such low risk for aggressive disease that monitoring is a clearly safe option. Conversely, the test also suggested some tumors were more aggressive than doctors had believed.”
It explained that one manufacturer had published 9 studies while the other had not published any results yet – “another thing that makes doctors wary.”
It explained that in one study:
“Using one current method, 37 of the 395 men would have been called very low risk and good candidates for monitoring. Adding the gene test put 100 men into that category, said another study leader, Dr. Matthew Cooperberg of UCSF. The gene test shifted about half of the men into either a lower or a higher risk category.”
The story explained some of the potential limitations of the new testing approach.
“Unless you can be sure your biopsy has hit the most aggressive part that’s in the prostate, you can’t be sure” how accurate your risk estimate is, explained Dr. Eric Klein, chief of urology at the Cleveland Clinic, who led early development of the Oncotype prostate cancer test.
UCSF just got a federal grant to see how men choose treatments and whether this test might sway them.
“We throw all these numbers at them. Are they really going to make a better decision?” Cooperberg said.
The story carefully explained:
Independent experts say such a test is desperately needed but that it’s unclear how much information this one adds or whether it will be enough to persuade men with low-risk tumors to forgo treatment, and treat it only if it gets worse.
Genomic Health has not published any results on the prostate test, another thing that makes doctors wary.
Dr. Kevin McVary, chairman of urology at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and a spokesman for the Urological Association, said the test must be validated in more men before it can be widely used.
“It’s not there yet,” he said.
But wouldn’t it be most helpful to report what the sensitivity and specificity of the test was?
There was no disease mongering of prostate cancer in the story.
Multiple sources were interviewed – which was admirable.
The story could have explained that two of the experts quoted either had paid consultant arrangements or received research funding from one of the companies mentioned in the story.
We’ll give the story the benefit of the doubt on this one. It covered a lot of ground and we don’t want to ding it for what it might have done a bit better.
It at least gave data comparing one of the new tests with “one current method.”
It at least said the new test is “similar to tests used now for certain breast and colon cancers.”
And it at least reported that “Doctors now base risk estimates on factors such as a man’s age and how aggressive cells look from biopsies that give 12 to 14 tissue samples. But tumors often are spread out and vary from one spot to the other.”
The story explained that one test goes on sale today and that another recently came on the market. And it raised the questions about whether availability/use will be limited if there isn’t evidence it leads to better care or saves lives.
The story put the new test – set for discussion today at the American Urological Association annual conference – into the context of some other relatively new genetic tests for cancer.
Lots of independent reporting so it’s clear this story didn’t rely on a news release.