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Homegrown Cure: Can Breast Milk Heal Adults?

Rating

2 Star

Homegrown Cure: Can Breast Milk Heal Adults?

Our Review Summary

This story looked at the potential for "harnessing the curative effects (of human breast milk) to fight terminal cancer."

But the segment:

  • failed to adequately document any evidence of the benefits of this approach in adults;
  • failed to explain that breast milk has been shown to transmit viruses such HIV, hepatitis, and meningitis – an important point when discussing its use in immunosuppressed cancer patients who are especially vulnerable to infection;
  • failed to include interviews with any oncologists, gastroenterologists, immunologists or lactation specialists.

It was described as “a highly alternative treatment.”  What does that mean?  

What did any of this mean to viewers?  It went from saying there was "promising research that would indicate that in the future, the solutions for not only preventing cancer, but even treating and curing cancer might be within human milk" – to saying "there’s no research that says…human breast milk will benefit a man, such as this man suffering from cancer."

Yet the network gave lots of airtime to the suggestion of potential benefits.

Such a “yes it can, no it can’t” use of network TV airtime is not a public service.  

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

No explicit cost information was provided.  The story said that "for most adults, breast milk is expensive."  But we don’t know what that means.  But it is a stretch to be worried about cost if the idea in question is completely without evidence.

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

Not Satisfactory

The segment is all over the map.  One physician is quoted as saying there is "promising research that would indicate that in the future, the solutions for not only preventing cancer, but even treating and curing cancer might be within human milk."

But another part of the segment says "there’s no research that says…human breast milk will benefit a man, such as this man suffering from cancer." 

Yet the network gave lots of airtime to the suggestion of potential benefits.

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

Not Satisfactory

The broadcast inadequately dealt with the potential harms from the treatment.  There was no discussion about the fact that breast milk is a biological fluid that has been shown to transmit viruses such HIV, hepatitis, and meningitis; additionally there is potential for breast milk to become contaminated or to have issues arise from improper storage. 

This is not a trivial point in this context as persons undergoing cancer treatment are often immunosuppressed and would be especially vulnerable to infection. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The broadcast inadequately informed viewers about any evidence to support the contentions made about breast milk. Instead, it referred to "harnessing the curative effects to fight terminal cancer."  Wow. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable

The story really didn’t give any background about colon cancer or prostate cancer – the two cancers mentioned.

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

Not Satisfactory

No oncologists, gastroenterologists, immunologists or lactation specialists appear to have been interviewed for this piece.  More articulate commentary about how to think about magical treatments would have been valuable for viewers.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

No other discussion of other research into ways to boost the immune system for people with cancer.

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

Satisfactory

It was clear from this broadcast that human breast milk is not readily available and that it was an unusual addition to cancer treatment for adults.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

There is scant reference to "promising research" but we’re not given any details about the history of such research.

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

Satisfactory

Did not appear to rely on a press release.

Total Score: 2 of 9 Satisfactory

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