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Study: New way to spot breast cancer shows promise


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Study: New way to spot breast cancer shows promise

Our Review Summary

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Breast Cancer Symposium (September 2008) highlights several new studies on breast cancer screening, treatment, and access to care.   Among these is a report of a novel imaging technique for detecting breast cancer.  Molecular breast imaging (MBI) is a promising new technology that uses a radioactive tracer given by IV.  This story did a good job, with the only exception being a significant one – that there was no discussion of the possible limitations of interpreting study results that are presented in a phone call news conference prior to the results being presented at a scientific meeting, much less peer reviewed and published. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


This story provides cost information and indicates that MBI may prove to be a more cost-effective and accurate method than magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).  (MRI is currently used for high risk women with dense breasts.)  It is estimated that MBI will cost half as much as MRI, $500 versus $1,000.

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


This article describes the positive outcomes of the trial evaluating MBI in terms that are easily understandable to the lay reader.  In absolute terms, MBI detected 10 of the 13 total tumors that were found over 15 months follow-up.  These results were greater than mammography which found three of the 13 tumors, failing to detect 10.  In addition, MBI had a lower rate of false positives than mammography, 7% versus 9%, respectively.  While MBI led to more biopsies than mammograms, it had a higher predictive value.  Three times more cancers were detected by MBI than by mammography.

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


MBI, as well as mammography, uses radiation to detect breast cancer tumors.  This article provides information about a potentially significant downside of MBI as compared to mammogram: MBI delivers eight to 10 times more radiation than a mammogram.

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


This article does a very good job of summarizing the preliminary results of what appears to be a well-designed controlled trial evaluating MBI as a breast cancer screening method in high risk women.  It provides detail on the subjects and methods, relevant outcomes, and provides a discussion of the implications of the findings.  (See Quantification of Benefits of Treatment comments.)

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


This article does not commit disease mongering. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The story was based ono a telephone news briefing with the lead author prior to her presentation later in the week at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference. 

We have enough concerns about news coverage of scientific findings at a scientific meeting. But basing a story on a phone press conference prior to presentation of study results at a professional meeting?   That suggests no peer review of scientific results prior to dissemination.  Even the limited review and comment on new work that occurs at a professional meeting provides some opportunity for input by others unaffiliated with the study.  This pre-conference release seems to increase the opportunity for biased presentation and lack of critical review of the work by independent experts. 

The one independent expert’s quote that did appear in the story doesn’t help that much because Eric Winer’s comment relates to the limitations of MRI as an adjunct to mammography.  It does not really comment on the study’s findings regarding MBI.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


This article accurately states that mammography and MRI are used as breast cancer screening methods.  It also adds that both methods have limitations, particularly false positives and unnecessary biopsies, which indicate the need for new, more effective technologies, such as MBI.

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


This article states that the molecular breast imaging (MBI) is an experimental method for breast cancer screening in high risk women.  Other descriptive terms, including "first big step", "promising" and "might be an additional tool", imply that this technique is not currently available.  The article also clearly indicates that this technique would not replace mammography.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


As indicated in the article, MBI is an innovative imaging technique for breast cancer screening.

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


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

Total Score: 9 of 10 Satisfactory


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