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New Herceptin study > new hype

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Herceptin has been used to treat advanced breast cancer, but three New England Journal of Medicine articles this week suggest the drug could work against an aggressive early-stage breast cancer.

Some news stories allow researchers (including a National Cancer Institute researcher) to use words like “cure” in describing the drug. Other experts were quoted calling the latest studies on the drug “revolutionary…stunning…jaw-dropping.” And some stories didn’t challenge those claims or that language.

But Rita Rubin of USA Today included caution in her story: “Barbara Brenner of Breast Cancer Action, an education and advocacy group, called use of the word ‘cure’ in this case ‘outrageous,’ because the studies on average followed women for only a year or two.”

In the San Jose Mercury News, Brenner was quoted again: “The annals of breast cancer are filled with stories like this one in which the hype hurts thousands of women and their loved ones.”

Jeff Donn of the Associated Press had a quote in his story: “I think it’s way too soon to talk about a cure,” said Debbie Saslow, director of the breast cancer section of the American Cancer Society.”

Good science doesn’t need hype. Good drugs need to stand the test of time. Thank goodness some journalists are countering the hype that they’re encountering and concentrating more on evidence than emotion and excitement.

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