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Asbestos exposure? This release will scare you into buying their cancer screening test

The test that reveals cancer sooner

Our Review Summary

Blood sampleThis news release describes findings from a retrospective study on a blood test marketed for the early detection of cancer, in this case asbestos-related malignant mesothelioma. The test screens for the presence of the protein ENOX2 which researchers say exists only on the surface of a malignant cancer cell. The MorNuCo company is “elated to share” news about this “exciting” ONCOblot cancer marker blood test. To make sure you don’t miss the “exciting” point, the word is used three times in a release that is only nine sentences long. The release falls short on data and relies on fear-mongering to engage people worried about cancer risk because of exposure to asbestos. The release flogs the myth that early detection is always a good thing, thus raising false hopes.

 

Why This Matters

To give powerful cancer treatments too soon, or even unnecessarily, does enormous harm, justified only if the potential benefit is clear. Not only does this study of the ONCOblot test fail to provide any evidence that early detection could provide a benefit to people exposed to asbestos (most of whom will never get mesothelioma), the retrospective study of a few people who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma cannot even demonstrate that the test could reliably predict who is likely to develop the disease, something that will have to be tested by prospective studies. The authors of the study noted the following in their conclusions:

“As with all biomarker studies, these observations require validation in a larger, independent cohort of patients and should include prospective as well as retrospective sampling.”

The news release failed to communicate that message.

Criteria

Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

It is notable that the company that sells the ONCOblot test (which can be used for early detection of 26 different cancers) doesn’t discuss its price. Some clinics list their test cost at $850 or $1000. It is not known how often testing would need to be repeated, if it is found to be useful for people exposed to asbestos.

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

Not Satisfactory

The release states it’s “an exciting sign of progress in the cancer detection field” because researchers detected “two mesothelioma-specific ENOX2 protein transcript variants” in the blood serum of individuals exposed to asbestos “an average of 6.2 years” before they were clinically diagnosed.

Unfortunately, that’s the only attempt at quantification found in the release. There’s no mention of accuracy or sensitivity of the test, how many people were tested, or how long the study lasted.

It’s not enough to claim that the test is useful. The sponsors should provide some data on how it improves patient outcomes, not just sound an alarm in order to get individuals to take a test. The unfortunate reality is that patients diagnosed with stage 1 disease have a median survival of 21 months and those diagnosed at stage 4 have a median survival of 12 months. It remains to be seen if early detection provides any advantage and a large clinical trial will be needed to see if this is true.

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

While the ONCOblot test itself involves just drawing a blood sample, the results of the test could produce life-threatening harms if it overdiagnoses people. In other words, a person told they have tested positive for these biomarkers for mesothelioma might start treatment too early or unnecessarily. Mesothelioma treatment is notably damaging. Let’s put the study into perspective: there were a total of 32 people enrolled (17 with known malignant mesothelioma and 15 without). Hardly a large enough sample size on which to make the claims made. Although as we noted previously, early detection does offer a small survival advantage, it comes at a cost. The American Cancer Society notes that chemotherapy for mesothelioma can cause hair loss, mouth sores, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, increased risk of infections, easier bruising or bleeding, fatigue and long-lasting nerve damage. Radiation treatment also can cause many of the same problems, as well as lung damage. Combining radiation and chemotherapy often makes side effects worse.

It won’t be known whether starting treatment earlier offers any benefits to people at risk for mesothelioma, but it is certain that treating more people earlier would cause more treatment-related harm.

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The release fails to mention how many people were included in the study: just 17 cancer patients and 15 people who were exposed to asbestos, but had not been diagnosed with cancer.

Although the release notes near the top that the study was “retrospective” (it looked back at stored blood samples taken from people exposed to asbestos, some who had been diagnosed with mesothelioma and some without known cancer), there is no mention of the long years of work needed before anyone will be able to say the test would be useful to people who have been exposed to asbestos. The journal article notes, “As with all biomarker studies, these observations require validation in a larger, independent cohort of patients and should include prospective as well as retrospective sampling.” The release should have noted that there is an important difference between finding that people who have cancer carry a certain biomarker and what people really want to know: that the biomarker can predict who will or won’t develop cancer, and even more importantly, whether starting treatment earlier makes any difference.

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The news release emphasizes that “Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive and almost uniformly fatal tumor caused primarily by exposure to asbestos.” However, it fails to note that not only is the disease rare (fewer than 3,000 cases per year in the United States, compared to more than 1.6 million cases and half a million deaths from all types of cancer), but most people exposed to asbestos never get mesothelioma. By implying that this test might be useful for anyone exposed to asbestos, the release sets the stage for a vast sales market of people, most of whom would never have to deal with mesothelioma, regardless of testing.

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The news release states that the study was done by MorNuCo, the company that developed the ONCOblot test.

Another useful flag apparent to close readers is that the only person quoted in the release is not a researcher, but the company’s vice president of business development.

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The release doesn’t mention any alternatives to the sponsor’s test. Some physicians believe that repeat chest CT scans are useful but this has not been verified in a clinical trial. The other alternative is basic primary care and watchfulness.

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The news release notes that the ONCOblot test is FDA approved as a “Laboratory Developed Test.” It also includes a link to a company web site with more information on the test and how to get it.

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The study backs up the characterization in the release that the results represent progress. Aside from the concerns mentioned above about implying the test will benefit patients, it is reasonable to say this test could be useful to researchers planning clinical trials of early treatment of mesothelioma.

Does the news release include unjustifiable, sensational language, including in the quotes of researchers?

Not Satisfactory

There are only nine sentences in this release, yet there is room to boast of “exciting results,” “exciting sign of progress” and an “exciting new chapter” that the company is “elated to share.” While the study results may well be exciting to some researchers who are planning clinical trials of early treatments for rare mesothelioma cancers, there is nothing in this study that is truly “exciting” to people worried about their personal risk of developing mesothelioma. The release dangles false hope in front of people exposed to asbestos by pushing the popular myth that “early detection is widely considered the corner stone of an effective strategy to reduce cancer-related deaths”.

As this online primer summarizes, the triple stumbling blocks of lead time bias, length bias and overdiagnosis stand between this study and any real understanding of whether the news may ever be exciting to people worried about the consequences of exposure to asbestos.

Total Score: 3 of 10 Satisfactory

Comments (5)

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Han Pham

February 11, 2016 at 11:19 am

I have been following Oncoblot for a good year because I know quite a few who have passed away because of cancer. I am not in the medical field, but Oncoblot is very exciting news for people who are interested in preventive care. It is unfortunate that people have given this an unsatisfactory rating without actually researching further. The latest research is one of many published papers relating to the Oncoblot test, the majority of reports are available on their website. One report shows that the test is 99.3% accurate with less than 1% false negatives (on 800 confirmed samples.)
A simple “google” search can tell you many things about MorNuCo Inc., the company headed by Dr, James+ Dorothy Morre. Yes, there is huge potential for profit, but how is that different from any other company out there? Dr. Morre has spent 20+ years on this line of research. Any conflict of interest is clearly stated in their reports. The Oncoblot test is currently in the FDA approval process. Once it is approved and accepted by the medical community, insurance should be able to cover the cost ($850-$1000), which is a lot less expensive than taking 26 different tests. Also, there is no exposure to radiation and a lot less intrusive.
Lastly, one study by MorNuCo Inc. (110 subjects) have shown that a combination of green tea and capsicum (chili pepper) can eliminate ENOX2, hence cancer cells. This means that cancer can be prevented if the test finds ENOX2 in the system (precursor to cancer) There are ways to eliminate ENOX2, simply by following the doctor’s advice of changing our eating habits and lifestyle.

Reply

    Kevin Lomangino

    February 11, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Dear Han,

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, but I think you misunderstand the purpose of our project and our reviews. We review media messages about health care interventions like the Oncoblot test — we don’t review the test itself. Our review found that Oncoblot’s messages about the test lacked almost all of the key information that consumers need to make good decisions about whether or not to use the test. So we graded it Not Satisfactory on those points. It’s not good enough to say that the info is available on the company’s website. We think it needs to be included in the news release. I’d add that you should consider some of the criticism’s from our team of experienced journalists and health professionals about the potential usefulness of the test. As they noted, even if the test proves to be as accurate as you say, there’s no telling if having that information will ultimately make a difference in meaningful health outcomes. The studies to show that simply haven’t been done.

    Kevin Lomangino
    Managing Editor

    Reply

Kelly Miller

April 22, 2016 at 2:20 pm

I think if you have an early notification that you are at risk of cancer, you could take nutritional and other types of prevention that might just ward off the oncoming cancer. This test would be good for those to make better lifestyle choices. I don’t think starting any aggressive cancer therapy would help anyone that early in diagnosis.

Reply

Cheri Caso

June 15, 2016 at 12:35 pm

After having breast cancer 4 years ago, I took the oncoblot test last year. It cost about $950 through the Cancer Center for Healing. My test came back positive, and the doctor told me I could take Capsol-T (the mixture of green tea and capsicum) and re-test in 6 month. I had a really horrible experience buying the Capsol-T from their site. It seemed like a scam, dealing with some guy named John with an old aol email address. My first shipment got lost in the mail. No tracking ever showed and he told me that was my loss, but he’d be nice and send another one out. I’ve never dealt with an online retailer that tells you ‘too bad’ if the shipment doesn’t show up. This stuff is expensive too. Then they were out of stock for months after that so I gave up trying to take it. It also seemed weird that the lab who does the Oncoblot tests, also makes the Capsol T pills. Seems like a good money making model. They knew from my pre-paperwork that I had cancer, one can only wonder. I also did have a mammogram the week after my Oncoblot test came back positive. It showed nothing, at least for now. I’m left to wonder about my cancer returning, but also wondering if sometimes this test can show cancer that may or may not ever develop into anything? They say this is the case for some cancers. All I can do now is make some dietary changes, and wait to see.

Reply

    Annamary Grover

    February 3, 2017 at 10:12 am

    I took the Oncoblot (Enox2) test in 2016 and the results came back positive for breast cancer. After that I had a mammogram, thermography, MRI, C.E.A and CA 15-3 exams and they all came back normal. My best friend’s mother also took the test in 2016 and her results came back positive for breast cancer. She also had an MRI, mammogram, etc. and the results were all normal. This makes me wonder about the accuracy of the test.

    Reply