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Erbitux OK for colorectal cancer patients with genetic marker


5 Star

Erbitux OK for colorectal cancer patients with genetic marker

Our Review Summary

This report describes a study showing that colon cancer patients whose tumors have a certain genetic mutation don’t benefit from the drug Erbitux. Since that drug is expensive and has serious side effects, it’s important to know which patients will benefit. This study confirms previous research into the question.

The story follows nearly all medical journalism best practices, as the ratings show. It could have been improved in two ways:

  • It might have put the studied treatment in context to other clinical approaches used to treat metastatic colon cancer. 
  • In the second paragraph, it says that the drug "doesn’t work" in patients whose tumors have the genetic mutation. But it does not return to verify or elaborate on this point in less vernacular language. 

For instance, later on the story reports that patients whose tumors do not have the mutation showed significant tumor shrinkage. It would have been useful to reiterate that patients who did have the mutation and took Erbitux saw outcomes no different from those taking the placebo–the core finding that supports the "doesn’t work" formulation at the top of the story. 

It’s also important to note that tumor shrinkage should not be equated with considerable benefit – which should be expressed in terms of improved survival, lower recurrence or improved quality of life.

Overall, though, this story was well done, and it took only 391 words to do such a good job.   


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The article does an excellent job of comparing the price of Erbitux with the cost of testing for the genetic mutation that indicates whether it will be effective.

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


The article states that adding Erbitux does not work in patients whose tumors have a specific gene mutation.

The story reports that 36 percent of the study respondents’ tumors had that genetic profile.

It is important to note that the marker of benefit used in the study (tumor shrinkage) may not result in better patient outcomes. 

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


The article does a good job of describing the harms of treatment with Erbitux: high costs and serious side effects–and, for people with a specific genetic profile, a lack of efficacy.

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


The article is based on a clinical trial of sufficient size and quality to justify publication of the story.

The research was presented at a scientific meeting, however. While the story mentioned this fact, it should also have said that the research has not yet been subjected to peer review. Yet the meeting, ASCO, is an important annual scientific gathering with considerable credibility in the field. 

All things considered, the article earns a satisfactory rating for this criterion.  

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The article does nothing to exaggerate the benefits of the treatment or the severity of the underlying condition for which it is used, metastatic colon cancer.

While the description of the side effect of Erbitux is vivid, it’s useful information that helps explain why it’s so important to know which patients are likely to benefit from the drug.

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


The article quotes one of the study co-authors and interviews a knowledgeable independent source familiar with the research and the condition.


Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The article makes plain that the studied options are standard chemotherapy and standard chemotherapy plus Erbitux.

It does not mention whether there are other treatments for newly diagnosed advanced colon cancer, however. Given the context, however, this omission is acceptable.  

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


The article makes clear that Erbitux is available, as is the combination treatment examined in this report.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The article makes clear that the tested treatment is widely used.

It also explains that previous research has been done on this specific question, preventing readers from thinking the conclusions of this research are novel.

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


It does not appear that the story relied on a news release.

Total Score: 10 of 10 Satisfactory


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