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PARP Inhibitors: Cancer Breatkthrough?


2 Star

PARP Inhibitors: Cancer Breatkthrough?

Our Review Summary

Compared to the NBC News story on treating cancers with PARP inhibitors, this story by ABC News is relatively restrained in its enthusiasm. It offers viewers more information about the underlying concept of synthetic lethality, which is really the core of the news value of this journal article.

However, as with the NBC News story, the journalists at ABC News seem dazzled by the tumors that (at least temporarily) stabilized or shrank during the trial.

By featuring only a patient who had a good outcome, and failing to mention concerns about tumors developing resistance to this type of drug, the story leaves viewers with the impression that dying cancer patients will be rescued by this type of treatment. While that outcome is certainly what researchers are working toward, the story makes it appear they have practically arrived.

This story fails to report the financial ties between the researchers and the pharmaceutical company that makes the study drug.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Although the correspondent says these drugs are close to entering the market, there is no mention of what they might cost.

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

Not Satisfactory

This story features one patient who says standard therapies failed to treat her cancer, but the experimental drug not only reduced her ovarian tumor size and pain, but it allowed her to return to work and resume other activities. Viewers are given the erroneous impression that she has been cured.

As both the journal article and editorial pointed out, tumors can develop resistance to PARP inhibition, but this story fails to tell viewers that the benefits reported by the woman featured on camera (and the other trial participants who had a positive response) might be only temporary.

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

Not Satisfactory

No information about side effects was included in this story.

Even in this small study, some patients reported nausea, vomiting, fatigue, low blood cell counts and other problems, yet the only patient featured in the story talks about being able to return to work full time and resume other activities, apparently without any restrictions.

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

Not Satisfactory

The correspondent says these drugs could be approved within a couple of years, if they “continue to prove effective in larger clinical trials.” The problem with that statement is that the phase I trial of a PARP inhibitor was designed only to look for safety problems and gather data on tumor responses… far short of proving clinical effectiveness.

As the New England Journal of Medicine editorial makes clear, the reason this small early-stage trial is worthy of notice is because it reports progress in developing a new approach to cancer treatment. The story, however, confuses that basic science advance with proof of clinical effectiveness.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable

Not much discussion of the cancers themselves, so this criterion is N/A.

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

Not Satisfactory

As mentioned above, this story did not include any comments from researchers who were involved in the PARP inhibitor trial reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. Viewers are not given any information about the expertise of the doctors who were quoted.

As with the NBC News story on this topic, this story failed to make any mention of the extensive financial relationships between the researchers and pharmaceutical company that makes the drug being studied.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

This story does not mention alternative treatments except to say that the experimental drug offers “hope,” “results,” and “opportunity” to patients who weren’t helped by conventional therapies.

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

Not Satisfactory

The report states that this sort of treatment could be widely available within two years, glossing over the amount of research that remains to be done.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


This story does a better job than the NBC News report of explaining the underlying concept of synthetic lethality and how it could offer a new way to develop anticancer treatments.

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


This story includes interviews and does not appear to be based largely on a news release. Oddly, none of the study authors was interviewed.

Total Score: 2 of 9 Satisfactory


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