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Immune System Taught to Fight Deadly Skin Cancer


4 Star

Immune System Taught to Fight Deadly Skin Cancer

Our Review Summary

This story reports on results from a recent randomized trial showing that a new cancer vaccine reduced the size of tumors and prolonged progression free survival in patients with metastatic melanoma.

It is a well written, balanced piece of health reporting about a trial which created a buzz at a national meeting of oncologists.  It was clear, hopeful without hyping the new treatment, and included expert comment.  If the writer had included absolute difference (not just relative difference) in treatment benefit it would have been even stronger. The story is also quick to point out that the results should be interpreted with caution, as additional research is needed to confirm the findings.

While the story meets many of our criteria, it could have been improved by making it clear that this research has not yet undergone a formal review process to ensure sound methodology and accurate calculations.  Additional details on the eligibility requirements for patients enrolled in this trial would have also been beneficial for readers.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

The story stated that the National Cancer Institute developed the vaccine and that it had not yet been commercially licensed.  So we don’t criticize it for not discussing costs.

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

Not Satisfactory

Although the story accurately reports the high-level results of the trial, it would have been more meaningful if the story also presented the absolute risk reductions rather than only the percent reductions in regards to the response rate.  

The story also mentions that the vaccine can only be administered to patients with a “certain tissue type,” a group that only comprises about half of those with melanoma.  To shed light on the applicability of the new treatment, more details on the characteristics of the patients included in this study would have been useful.  

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


The story mentions that 15 of the 180 patients in the study developed a heart rhythm problem, which was successfully controlled by medication. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The story mentions that the results were recently presented at the American Society of Cancer Oncology meeting, but does not explicitly state that the research has yet to be published in a medical journal.  Unlike published articles, this study has not gone through a review process to check for errors in the methodology.  We think this is an important issue to tell readers about.

Despite this oversight, the story provides quotes from the study lead as well as a doctor from the American Cancer Society, stating that the results of the research should be interpreted with caution and larger and longer studies are warranted to confirm the results.  The story also mentions that a placebo was used, indicating a well-designed trial. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story does not exaggerate the seriousness or prevalence of melanoma. 

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


In addition to interviewing two of the study’s authors, this story provides commentary from a doctor at the American Cancer Society. 

A patient whose lung tumors were eliminated with use of the new vaccine was also quoted in the story.  In this case, it would have been beneficial for the story to note that not all patients may receive the same benefit.

The story mentions that the National Cancer Institute developed the vaccine and sponsored the study along with Novartis AG, the company that manufactures interleukin-2 which is the standard therapy used in the study.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The research compared the new treatment with interleukin-2, the standard therapy.  The story provided additional information regarding the efficacy and side effects of interleukin-2.  Furthermore, it would have been useful if the story mentioned that traditional chemotherapy and radiation are also part of the standard treatment for melanoma.          

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


This story clearly states that the vaccine has not yet been made available commercially.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story explicitly states that this is a novel therapy for the treatment of melanoma. 

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


This story does not appear to rely on a press release. 

Total Score: 7 of 9 Satisfactory


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