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Treating Cancer


2 Star

Treating Cancer

Our Review Summary

This was a story about the results of a phase III trial to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting.  It showed that the addition of antibody treatment to the standard neuroblastoma treatments appeared to result in a higher proportion of patients being free of tumor at 2 years.  

But the story failed to provide:

  • Information on costs
  • Information on harms – By failing to at least mention some of the potential downsides of the treatment, the story helped perpetuate the myth of treatment without ramification.
  • Absolute data – only relative data was given.
  • Caveats on the weaknesses of drawing conclusions from scientific meeting abstracts
  • Any perspective from an independent expert


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Even though this is an experimental approach, it is possible to make some estimate of costs and this should have been included in the story.  The story reports on two years of research results.  You can be assured that somebody is tracking costs after two years.

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

Not Satisfactory

Relative benefit was cited in the story; this did not provide viewers with sufficient information for judging whether the benefit was significant or not.  Knowing that over 200 children were randomized (as opposed to say 20) and the absolute benefit would have made the story more interesting and helpful.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story failed to mention the side effects associated with the treatment.  This was a glaring omission.  The side effects of treatment includes pain, vascular leak syndrome, and allergic reaction.  

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

Not Satisfactory

The story failed to mention that the results they reported on were from an abstract to be presented at a meeting as opposed to a peer reviewed publication.

The story reported that 66% of the children receiving the experimental approach had tumor free survival at 2 years as compared with 46% of those who received only standard therapy.  The story didn’t give some important context.  This was a randomized clinical trial of 226 youngsters divided equally into groups that did and did not receive the antibody treatment in addition to their standard treatment.  The difference in event free survival (as well as survival itself) was significantly better in the group of youngsters who had the antibody as part of their treatment.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


There is no overt disease-mongering about neuroblastoma.  But a simple line about the very low incidence of this tumor would have added helpful perspective.

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

Not Satisfactory

The experience of one patient, and the thoughts of his parents and his doctor (who was also a co-author of the abstract) were included in the story.  There was no interview with independent experts in childhood cancers or neuroblastoma specifically. This would have help provide context for viewers about the likely impact of this treatment.  

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story offered a list of treatments that the featured youngster had undergone.  While mentioning that the study results discussed came from a clinical trial, there was no discussion about whether there were other modalities currently under investigation for treatment or management of neuroblastoma. 

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


The story ended by informing viewers that the treatment was experimental.  There could have been more emphasis on the early nature of the findings – i.e. so far – the results have only been presented at a meeting, meaning that they have not yet undergone peer review.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story was clear that this approach, an immunotherapy,  was something added in addition to other therapies and that it is an experimental approach to improving outcomes for neuroblastoma.

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


Did not rely exclusively on a press release.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory


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