Five-Star Friday: cancer centers, precision medicine, stem cell soup, and why science isn’t broken

5 stars 410 x 273Last week we reviewed three top-rated five-star stories on the site. This week we didn’t have anything that topped three stars cross our radar.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t reporters and news release writers putting out exemplary pieces about health care — merely that we didn’t have an opportunity to review them. This column provides the chance to direct some attention toward a few of those hidden gems.

Brady Dennis at the Washington Post wrote about “A cancer building boom, fueled by economics and an aging population.” He noted that while the trend may “allow more people to undergo often daunting and demanding cancer treatments closer to home,” it’s also being driven by hospitals “searching for reliable revenue in a rapidly changing health-care landscape.” He quoted an independent expert who asked, “Does proliferation mean the average patient is more or less likely to get high-quality care when the market is flooded with places claiming to be cancer centers?”

At USA Today, sports reporter Brent Schrotenboer delved into the science behind expensive stem cell treatments for sports injuries in “Companies offer athletes hope with questionable stem cell treatments.” He also leaned on independent experts who emphasized the lack of evidence for such therapies, one which is called “The Soup.” “Nobody knows if this type of treatment really works or if it’s even legal under U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules,” the experts said.

The Boston Globe featured a piece written by Sharon Begley and produced by Stat, a new health, medicine, a science publication that Boston Globe Media Partners will be launching this fall. The piece, headlined “Precision medicine, linked to DNA, still too often misses,” examined how actual patient outcomes measure up against the hype surrounding “personalized” cancer treatments.  The conclusion: “Contrary to its name, precision medicine is often inexact, which means that for some patients, it will offer false hope rather than a cure.” It’s a welcome reality check on recent high-profile claims that we may have cancer cured within the next decade.

Finally, even though it’s a couple of weeks old, we wanted to point readers who may not have seen it to Christie Aschwanden’s fantastic exploration at FiveThirtyEight of why “Science isn’t broken,” it’s just “hard — really f@#cking hard.” While reports of fraud, retraction and scandal may have shaken the public’s confidence in science of late, Aschwanden reminds us — and shows us — why errors, false results, and biased conclusions are all baked into the arduous process of scientific inquiry. “Science is not a magic wand that turns everything it touches to truth,” she says.

Did you see a great health care story this week that we missed? Please leave a pointer to it in the comments.


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