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Breaching a Barrier to Fight Brain Cancer


5 Star

Breaching a Barrier to Fight Brain Cancer

Our Review Summary

This story, on a novel approach to infusing chemotherapy for a brain tumor, just goes to show what a careful, engaged reporter can accomplish when given sufficient time and space to write a story.

As the story’s ratings show, the reporter follows all health reporting best practices.

But the story accomplishes a great deal more. Starting with a single patient’s experience in a trial of a novel cancer treatment, the reporter illuminates the function of the blood-brain barrier; the nature of a deadly brain tumor recently in the news; the structure of clinical trials; some recent advances in chemotherapy; and the nuances of the patient-researcher relationship.

The reporter also manages to humanize the patient and locate the disease in a family’s life, without getting mawkish or exploitive.

It’s the kind of story that leaves one with hope–that quality health journalism does still exist. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Costs of the treatment were not mentioned. But we can understand that in an article about an experimental approach so far from clinical use.


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


With only a Phase I study underway, there is no data to report. The story makes this clear.

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


The story explains that the infusion method has not been proven safe–indeed, that’s what the current study is designed to find out.

In addition, the reporter cites the doctor’s estimated risks of the treatment the featured patient faces: a 5 percent chance of becoming "visibly weak" and a 1 percent chance of left-side paralysis. 


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


The story plainly discloses that there is no evidence that the procedure treats glioblastoma successfully. (Although the anecdotes about spots on MRIs "melting away" did suggest efficacy. This was potentially misleading as they may recur in the vast majority of cases.)

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The article describes glioblastoma’s deadliness with facts and data rather than appeals to emotion. The language is in some places dramatic but not inappropriately so.

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


The reporter draws on three principal sources: two physicians involved with the research and an independent expert on glioblastoma from NIH.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story describes the conventional treatments for glioblastoma–surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy via pill or IV.

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


The story makes very clear that the approach described is experimental and not clinically available. It is the subject of a Phase I trial of 30 patients. 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The novelty of this approach to glioblastomas is implicit: The featured patient is only the second to receive the treatment.

The story also explains that the studied method of infusion uses an existing drug in a novel way.


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


There is no evidence that the story relied on a news release.

Total Score: 9 of 9 Satisfactory


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