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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Did not rely exclusively on a press release.