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Breakthrough Cancer Study: Change Lifestyle, Change Risk


4 Star

Breakthrough Cancer Study: Change Lifestyle, Change Risk

Our Review Summary

Prostate cancer testing and treatment are controversial isses that are receiving increasing attention by the media.  Surgery and radiation are the conventional treatments.  While potentially life-saving in some cases they often have devastating effects on quality of life, leaving many men incontinent or impotent.  Preventative steps or less invasive treatment options are desirable.  This story presents the results of a small, pilot research study which suggests that a low-fat of diet and a healthy lifestyle can positively alter genes involved in prostate cancer.  The study was conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish who is well-known for his work promoting very low-fat, vegetarian diets and exercise for prevention and treatment of heart disease.  The story brings in results from other research studies showing a potentially beneficial role of a healthy lifestyle in reducing the risk of prostate cancer and the risk of disease progression.  The reader is lead to believe that the study being covered showed these results, which is not the case. 

There are times when our "star" scores are misleading.  In this case the star score is deceptively high for how we really feel about the story. That is why these summary comments are important.  This piece may have addressed many of our criteria, but was lacking in balance, independent perspectives, details about the actual study results and details about the types of patients who might be candidates for this lifestyle intervention.  Viewers may have been given a far too optimistic picture of an early pilot study. 

The anecdote of the man who was diagnosed with prostate cancer and whose most recent biopsy now shows no cancer is a terribly incomplete anecdote and viewers should not draw any conclusions based on his story.  What was the stage and grade of his tumor when first diagnosed?  Why didn’t the story state that biopsies sometimes miss finding cancer that is present?  Thank goodness the man himself said, "I’m not ready to say I’m cured of cancer."  


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

 It was not necessary for the story to itemize the costs of the lifestyle intervention.


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

Not Satisfactory

The major benefit of the research study being covered was the suggestion that hundreds of genes involved in prostate cancer can be changed by diet and lifestyle in a potentially beneficial way.  This positive outcome was indicated in comments made by the correspondent and Dr. Dean Ornish, the principle researcher.  Overall the story tended to overstate the benefits by focusing on their potential implications for the future prevention and treatment of prostate cancer. 

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


It is generally accepted that following the nutrition and lifestyle intervention being reported on, a low-fat diet, exercising, and reducing stress, improves health and does not harm it.  The story does present the opposite side of the coin, that the diet is highly restrictive and tough to follow, at least in the beginning.  It could have pointed out that a very low-fat diet, 10% of calories from fat, is significantly less that the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans which recommend between that 20% to 35% of calories come from fat. And the story could have pointed out that for people with pre-diabetes or diabetes, this is not the optimal diet to follow. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The lead in to this story did not accurately summarize the findings of the research study it was covering.  It correctly summarized the main outcome, that "hundreds of genes [related to prostate cancer] were changed for the better."  It went too far in stating that this study showed that "…reversing your chances of getting the disease, or even reversing its course once you have it."  While some other studies suggest that diet could decrease factors related to prostate cancer such as prostate-specific antigen (PSA), this was not examined or shown in the study being covered.  This story could have included that last sentence of the abstract summarizing the research study: "Larger clinical trials are warranted to confirm the results of this pilot study". 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story does not commite disease-mongering regarding prostate cancer.  

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

Not Satisfactory

Most of the information included in this story came from Dr. Dean Ornish, the principal investigator.  Only one, very brief, cautionary comment from an outside expert was included.  This added little to the broader perspective of whether this is an important contribution to the science of prostate cancer treatment.  The story did not provide enough independent perspective.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


This story makes brief mention of surgery and radiation as conventional treatment options.  It did not expound upon the risks associated with the options but made a good point in noting that a low-tech, low-cost intervention such as diet and lifestyle factors could be a powerful alternative to conventional treatments.

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


The story states that the lifestyle intervention, a low-fat, vegetarian diet, exercise, daily stress reduction activities, is described in a new book by Dr. Dean Ornish, the lead investigator on the diet and prostate cancer study.  The book, entitled "The Spectrum", explains how both healthy people and those who have chronic illness can use the program.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


A healthy lifestyle is certainly not a "breakthrough" treatment for overall health, but the state-of-the-art techniques used to look at prostate cancer genes in response to diet is new. 

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

Not Applicable

We can’t be sure if the story relied solely or largely on a news release.

Total Score: 5 of 8 Satisfactory


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