Health News Review

It’s difficult to do an overview of melanoma drug research in a relatively brief story.  But this story did a solid job.

Our Review Summary

This story demonstrated how to present context and broad perspective even in advance coverage of big meetings like the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting.


Why This Matters

The ending of a story may be the take-home message that readers remember.  Often that’s a glowing patient anecdote.  This quote, from the executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, presented an appropriate and necessary final perspective:

“If you are a patient and someone says, ‘There is an 85% chance of you spending $120,000 on a drug, and spending four months of your life being sick, with no benefit,’ you’re not going to be so excited.”


Criteria

Satisfactory

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

Ballpark costs are mentioned in the final take home quote from the executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation: “”If you are a patient and someone says, ‘There is an 85% chance of you spending $120,000 on a drug, and spending four months of your life being sick, with no benefit,’ you’re not going to be so excited.”

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

With so many different drugs discussed in one overview story, it’s difficult to give complete data on all. And, while we had some reservations, we give the story the benefit of the doubt on this criterion.

In general terms the story states, “No one can claim to have cured melanoma.” Also in general terms, it stated, “When the new immune therapies work, they often keep cancer at bay for a long time.”

It gave specific details on two studies released in advance of the upcoming ASCO meeting – what percentage of patients had what percentage of tumor shrinkage. But we would have liked to have seen additional comments on why this level of tumor shrinkage is important to the patient. Tumor shrinkage may be a surrogate outcome that doesn’t translate into a meaningful improvement in a person’s life. Was there an improvement in survival or quality of life?  How long were the subjects followed in the studies?

It also included this quote from the executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation: “Drugs such as ipilumumab can seem like breakthroughs to doctors because they help 15% of patients. Patients with a limited time to live may not be so positive.”

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

Adequate discussion of potential harms from a couple of the drugs.  Excerpts:

  • From a patient profiled: “The most noticeable side effects from nivolumab have been moderate fatigue and vitiligo, a loss of pigment on some areas of her hands and arms.”
  • “Ipilumumab can cause severe side effects, created when the immune system attacks the body itself, Schuchter says. Vemurafenib, approved in 2011, can cause non-lethal skin cancers.”Doctors will say, ‘There are side effects, but they are manageable,’” Turnham says. “Well, ‘manageable’ can mean something different to patients.”Turnham knew a 19-year-old woman with melanoma who “woke up bleeding every morning” because of rashes caused by one of the new drugs, which targets mutations in a gene called MEK. The woman died a year later.”
Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

In a broad overview, the story gave an adequate sense of the state of the evidence.  Some newly approved drugs. Another on a fast track to approval.  Several other companies working on melanoma therapies.  288 melanoma studies to be discussed at upcoming ASCO meeting, compared with 62 a decade ago.

Satisfactory

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease-mongering in the story.

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

Adequate sourcing, including important contributions in quotes from the executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation.

Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The entire story was an overview of competing alternative therapies.

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

The varying stages of availability of the various drugs was made clear in the story.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The relative novelty of the research was explained in various ways:

“The number of new melanoma therapies is sort of astonishing,” says melanoma researcher Lynn Schuchter, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “The pace is unbelievable.”

Unlike traditional chemo, which indiscriminately kills growing cells, the new generation of melanoma drugs work in a precise way, based on a better understanding of the specific genes and proteins that drive cancer growth, says Timothy Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation.

“The reason we’re seeing these breakthroughs is because we did the basic science research to help us understand how this cancer happens, how it escapes therapy and how it progresses,” Turnham says.

Many of the new drugs aim to remove melanoma’s “cloaking device,” allowing it to be recognized and killed by the immune system, says Roy Herbst, chief of medical oncology at the Yale Cancer Center.

Other drugs — such as the two approved Wednesday, trametinib and dabrafenib — target growth signals within cancer cells.”

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

It’s clear that the story did not rely on a news release.

Total Score: 10 of 10 Satisfactory


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