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Compound May Fight Hard-to-Treat Lung Cancer

Rating

2 Star

Compound May Fight Hard-to-Treat Lung Cancer

Our Review Summary

It took until 268 words deep into a 383 word story to learn that the "Compound May Fight Hard-to-Treat Lung Cancer" story was not about human research. 

 

Why This Matters

This article commits one of the cardinal sins of health journalism: it downplays the fact that the research was not done in humans. The unchallenged projections about the potential applications for patients are premature.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

No costs are discussed. But we can understand that since the story is based on an early phase of research – so early that the question might be about its newsworthiness.

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

Not Satisfactory
Benefits are neither quantified nor qualified. One early sentence, quoted in the ‘Availability’ criterion, notes that cancers "were stymied" by the compound. One could easily read the sentence to be suggesting that the compound showed 100% efficacy against human cancers. Not to mention that "stymie" is vague; it’s not clear what happened in the mice.

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

Not Satisfactory

No potential harms are discussed, nor is it mentioned that the safety profile in humans has yet to be established. The article would have done well to continue the Dr. Eck quote from the press release to include his acknowledgment that "we still have much to learn about their potential liabilities," referring to this new class of compounds.

The "hope" that the compound will have fewer harms than currently available drugs appears to be based largely on in vitro data.

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

Not Satisfactory

The article provides no evaluation of the evidence beyond what was in the press release, which itself downplays the fact that the evidence is not from humans. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The article presents accurate data on lung cancer mortality and NSCLC from the American Cancer Society.

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

Not Satisfactory

No independent source is cited besides the ACS statistics on lung cancer. Any story that allows a researcher to make bold claims such as that this research "will lead to an effective treatment for the thousands of non-small cell lung cancer patients worldwide" demands an independent perspective. 

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The article mentions that the compound is being developed for NSCLCs that are resistant to 2 other drugs. However, it does not mention whether those 2 drugs are the only available treatment approaches for patients who might conceivably receive the new compound.

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

Not Satisfactory

Not until the very end of the article do we learn that the dramatic results against NSCLC tumors occurred in mice, not human beings. In fact, it never states the setting for any results — an important point because the article fails to reveal that some results, such as the compound’s apparent ability to spare normal tissues, were achieved in cell lines, not even in mice, according to the press release and article published in Nature. Therefore, most of the article is misleading .

Read the pivotal sentence below. Without any mention of animals preceding it, how could we not assume that the lungs, cancers, and powerful treatment effects were in humans?

The scientists say non-small cell lung cancers that had become invulnerable to the chemotherapy drugs Iressa and Tarceva were stymied in a study by a compound designed and formulated in the Dana-Farber laboratory.


This sentence, if not the article’s title, should have been qualified with the word "animal," "mouse," or even "murine."

The article provides almost no caveats about the preliminary nature of these results, nor the limitations of extrapolating to humans any data obtained from cell lines and animals. While the article does contain two statements, essentially quoting the press release, about what lies ahead following these early data, both sentences contain a "but" followed by the investigators’ optimism.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The article describes the novelty of the compound.

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

Not Satisfactory

Besides the final paragraph on epidemiology, the article appears to rely entirely on the Dana Farber press release. Much of the language was taken verbatim.  One researcher’s quote is identical to one in the news release, yet there is no attribution, making it appear as though WebMD interviewed the researcher.

Total Score: 2 of 9 Satisfactory

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