Fox News posts story making preposterous claim about breast cancer

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We’ve seen a lot of bad health news stories, but this is one of the worst: Fox News posted a story under the headline, “U.S.-Developed Vaccine ‘Could Eliminate’ Breast Cancer.”

The story states the vaccine “could prevent breast cancer and save the lives of millions of women.”

Then it goes on to explain this was an experiment in six mice. SIX MICE!

Shame on them.

Many other news organizations are jumping on the six-mouse-story.

CNN.

KMGH-TV Denver says “Vaccine May Cure Breast Cancer.”

A USA Today blog cites a Cleveland TV report under its headline “possible vaccine to prevent breast cancer.”

To talk about cures and prevention after an experiment in six mice is not sound health journalism. Such stories can be covered but should include early, clear and frequent caveats about the limitations of drawing any conclusions from animal research, much less in six mice.

Addendum on June 2: For a much more reasonable rendition of this story, see what Liz Szabo of USA Today wrote. Note that she also said 50 mice had been vaccinated – so Fox didn’t even get the numbers right!

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Greg Pawelski

June 1, 2010 at 4:51 pm

A phenomenon, described a few years ago by researchers from the University of Missouri and Imperial College of London in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, could help explain why billions of dollars and decades of research have yet to produce a working vaccine against most forms of cancer. Cancer may resist vaccines by dressing infected cells in the protein trappings of sperm, tricking bodies into thinking they’re harmless.
When sperm are manufactured, their glycoproteins (compounds ubiquitous in cellular function) are tagged with chains of carbohydrates known as Lewis sequences. Human immune systems are generally friendly towards these sequences; they’re probably what allow sperm to be accepted by female immune systems.
Unfortunately for us, cancer cells produce Lewis sequence-tagged glycoproteins. It is largely ignored by human immune systems. Reproduction is required for the survival of our species. Therefore we are
hard-wired to protect our sperm and eggs as well as our unborn babies from any type of immune response.
Unfortunately, the results suggest that many pathogens and tumor cells also have integrated themselves into this protective system, thus enabling them to resist the human immune response.
If aggressive cancers and pathogens are using the same system of universally recognizable markers to trick the immune system into thinking they’re harmless, then we need to determine exactly how this interaction works.
Scientists are going to have to become more clever if they are ever going to solve the problems of cancer. They need to think in an entirely new way if they are to combat aggressive tumor cells.

Janine Guglielmino

June 2, 2010 at 8:35 am

Gary, here’s a much better story on this issue from Liz Szabo at USA Today. I think it meets many more of the journalistic criteria: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-06-02-cancervaccine02_ST_N.htm. It’s particularly helpful that Liz says high up in the story that most mice studies never even make it to human clinical trials.

Darbi Rogers

June 7, 2010 at 11:57 am

Gary,
Just recently started receiving Health News Review and I am so thrilled. I wish I’d known of it’s existence a long time ago. As a former nurse I’ve always tried to keep up with the latest medical news and especially now…it’s so warped at times and prime example is your article on the breast vaccine…my thought was “WHAT?!!! Six Mice?!!!! (In another source 50) Why in the world is the media even giving this any time?”
Anyway, Thank you for all your work, your information and especially I love the critiquing at the end of the articles where you validate the authenticity or whether an article is “up to snuff” so to speak.
You are wonderful for the work you are doing to keep the truth alive and separate fact from fiction! As a baby boomer and advocate for the aging, elderly, or soon to be elderly like myself, I think you are right up there close to the right hand of God!! Thanks for separating the wheat from the chaff!!
Blessings and have a wonderful day!
Darbi Rogers

Jan Henderson

June 7, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Whenever I find a story like this, I check it out at Behind the Headlines from the UK’s National Health Service. The articles are written by Bazian, a company that provides evidence-based information to publications and healthcare systems. Their articles always start by citing a British headline, and then they give a scientific opinion that explains what type of study was involved, the sample size, and other significant factors. They don’t usually comment as extensively on different publications as they did with this story. Their focus is on correcting misperceptions that may be created by overly enticing headlines.
“BBC News, The Guardian, The Times and the Daily Mirror reported on this research. BBC News, The Guardian and The Times all report that this study was in mice, however, the Daily Mirror does not. The Times covers the limitations of the study well, and highlights the fact that the study was in mice in its headline: “The breast cancer vaccine is great news – for mice”. The Guardian suggests that the vaccine could be tested in humans “within the next two years”, while the Mirror says tests could begin “as early as next year”. It is not clear how these timescales have been arrived at, or whether they are realistic.”
Here’s the homepage: http://www.nhs.uk/News/Pages/NewsIndex.aspx