NOTE TO READERS: When this project lost substantial funding at the end of 2018, I lost the ability to continue publishing criteria-driven news story reviews and PR news release reviews - once the bread-and-butter of the site going back to 2006. The 3,200 archived reviews, while still educational, are getting old and difficult for me to technically maintain on the back end of the website. So I am announcing that I plan to remove these reviews from the site by April 1, 2021. The blog and the toolkit - two of the most popular features on the site - will remain. If you wish to peruse the reviews before they disappear, please do so by the end of March 2021. After that date you may still be able to access them via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine - https://archive.org/web/.
Read Original Story

Acupuncture Reduces Painful Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatments

Rating

2 Star

Acupuncture Reduces Painful Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatments

Our Review Summary

The side effects of chemotherapy are many and very bothersome. If acupuncture could help ease these symptoms, it would be welcome news. This story reports on the presentation of a new study at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology meeting this week suggesting that acupuncture relieves side effects in women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

But this story ultimately fails to deliver important information to the reader. It never described the current study, didn’t evaluate the quality of the evidence, and didn’t mention that the study has only been presented at a scientific meeting and has not been published and peer-reviewed. It also left out other details such as the costs of acupuncture, any potential harms of the treatment and the pros and cons of the available alternatives.

Finally, the story does not adequately quantify the benefits of acupuncture. The story states that "as many as three-quarters of cancer patients report being helped by acupuncture." Compared to how many in the control group? How much were they helped by it? How did they measure improvement?

Readers may be interested in the critique on The Junkfood Science blog, which comments on this and other news stories on this study.  

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention the costs of acupuncture and whether or not insurance would likely cover it.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not adequately quantify the benefits of acupuncture. The story states that "as many as three-quarters of cancer patients report being helped by acupuncture." Compared to how many in the control group? How much were they helped by it? How did they measure improvement?

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention any potential drawbacks to acupuncture. The experts quoted claim that "there are no risks involved" in acupuncture. The few potential risks of acupuncture (albeit rare) include skin infections, hepatitis (if disposable needles are not used), pneumothorax (if too deep over the chest), and local hematoma.  Also many "local" acupuncturists may also recommend Chinese herbal remedies which have known herb-drug interactions and potential for organ toxicity.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not describe the current study at all. Nor does the story mention that the study has only been presented at a scientific meeting and has not been published and peer-reviewed. This is a major weakness of the piece.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story does not exaggerate the seriousness or prevalence of side effects of chemotherapy.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story only quotes one expert, who is at the center discussed in the story. The story could have been improved by including other, independent experts.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story mentions anti-depressants to treat hot flashes but does not mention any other medications or alternative therapies that are available.

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

Not Satisfactory

Clearly acupuncture is available, but the story wasn’t clear about just how available it is. The story mentions that "at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, many patients with different types of cancer are now offered acupuncture as a routine part of their care." How widespread is this? Are there specially trained acupuncturists for this indication? Is this a "targeted" type of acupuncture for chemotherapy side effects, or a more general treatment, say for nausea?

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

The story didn’t make any claims about the novelty of this area of research.  Clearly acupuncture is not a new idea. Neither is research into its potential to curb chemotherapy side effects.

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

Satisfactory

There is no direct evidence that the story relied solely or largely on a news release.  In fact, the story doesn’t even interview the lead author of the study who is from Detroit and who is mentioned in hospital and conference news releases.  Instead, it looks like the network turned to an expert who was more available and convenient.

Total Score: 2 of 9 Satisfactory

Comments

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