This is a solid, concise report on the benefits of adding chemotherapy to radiation treatment for brain cancer.
It does a good job reporting the key findings of benefit responsibly and clearly, using both absolute and relative terms. It also describes the methodology and caveats.
The reader comes away understanding that the new report shows improved survival but is by no means a cure. It makes plain that with either therapy, a large majority of patients die within 5 years of diagnosis.
The reporter also does a fine job of putting the findings in the context of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s recent diagnosis and treatment of the same kind of tumor. This makes the story relevant and personal. Yet the reporter does not distort the story so it’s more about Kennedy rather than the findings.
As the ratings show, the reporter should have consulted with one source with no connection to the study or the treatment.
Further, the failure to mention the potential harms of the treatment–a paramount quality-of-life issue for patients–is a significant omission.
The story fails to report the costs of the treatments alone and together.
As a matter of course, costs should be reported, even when not central to the story’s theme.
The story does a solid job of presenting the benefits in absolute terms with the most relevant clinical endpoint–10 percent of people who got the combination treatment were alive 5 years after diagnosis.
It uses absolute data to compare results at the three-year mark as well.
Elsewhere it compares survival rates in relative terms, i.e., "five times more likely to be alive."
Because the death rate is so high with either treatment approach, quality of life remaining–which is seriously affected by harms or side-effects of treatment–is a relevant, perhaps dominant, issue.
The reporter should have explored the side effects of the treatment and the quality of life issues for each treatment.
The published study at the center of the story is a clinical trial of techniques currently in use.
The reportage about the study, including quotes from two oncologists, makes clear that the evidence shows improved outcomes but not a "cure."
The reporter mentions the caveats that the findings apply only to those 70 and younger, and that those under 50 benefitted the most.
The story sticks closely to the facts of the published study, without exaggerating the gravity of the disease.
The mention of Ted Kennedy getting the treatment serves to make the story timely, interesting and relevant without excessive emotion.
But the story does overgeneralize the application of this treatment. The story refers to "brain cancer" and "tumors," yet the findings apply only to glioblastoma, a small subset of brain cancers. This could invite unwarranted hope in readers that the findings apply to many types of brain cancer.
The story cites two sources, the lead author of the study and the oncologist who treated Sen. Kennedy.
While it’s appropriate to interview both, neither is a disinterested observer. A third source, entirely independent of the study and its findings, should have been consulted.
The study explains that surgery with radiation is the longstanding treatment, and that the addition of chemotherapy to the treatment is in increasing use.
The reporter should have acknowledged, however, that doing nothing is an option. It would be good for readers to know what life expectancy is with no treatment.
The story makes clear that the both parts of the brain cancer treament, radiation and chemotherapy, are available and sometimes used together.
Citing the fact that Sen. Edward Kennedy received a similar treatment emphasizes its availability.
The story makes clear the combination treatment is available and currently in use.
It explains that the current publication follows previously published studies of the treatment.
There does not appear to be a press release linked to the study’s publication.