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Cervical cancer breakthrough

Rating

3 Star

Cervical cancer breakthrough

Our Review Summary

This story reports on the decision of an FDA panel to recommend approval of a vaccine against HPV, the leading cause of cervical cancer. The story treats the FDA approval as fait accompli. Although the FDA usually goes along with the panel recommendations, approval is not automatic or occur when it is predicted. The story does not mention costs, which are likely to be substantial given the scope of a potential vaccination program. Furthermore, because women will likely still have to get pap smears, an HPV vaccination program is unlikely to save money. The cost of the three injections are estimated to be around $500. The cost of a nationwide screening program would be in the billions of dollars.

Although the story mentions trials of 17,000 young women, the story does not adequately describe the nature of the available evidence and no harms are mentioned. Only the president of the American Cancer Society is quoted – no additional perspectives are provided.

The story does explain that the vaccine is effective against 70% of HPV infections, potentially saving 3,500 deaths from cervical cancer per year. However, the story should have provided more context. In order to realize the purported benefits, every eligibile individual would need to be vaccinated and the vaccine would have to be 100% effective. Women in lower socioeconomic groups have a higher incidence of HPV and lack access to healthcare. The story does not appear to engage in disease mongering, accurately represents the novelty of the vaccine and mentions the pap smear as the alternative.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention costs, which are likely to be substantial given the scope of a potential vaccination program. Furthermore, because women will likely still have to get pap smears, an HPV vaccination program is unlikely to save money. The cost of the three injections are estimated to be around $500. The cost of a nationwide screening program would be in the billions of dollars.

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

Satisfactory

The story does explain that the vaccine is effective against 70% of HPV infections, potentially saving 3,500 deaths from cervical cancer per year. The story should have provided more context. In order to realize the purported benefits, every eligibile individual would need to be vaccinated and the vaccine would have to be 100% effective. These are both unrealistic because women in lower socioeconomic groups have a higher incidence of HPV and lack access to healthcare.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention harms, and this is a very important omission. To do this right, you would need to immunize 70 million people. Varicella vaccine has a serious event rate of about 4%. If this vaccine is in the same ballpark, there would be 2.8 million people with serious reactions. Some discussion of possible harms is necessary.

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

Not Satisfactory

Although the story mentions trials of 17,000 young women, the story does not adequately describe the nature of the available evidence.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story does not appear to engage in disease mongering.

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

Not Satisfactory

Only the president of the American Cancer Society is quoted. Single-source health care stories are insufficient. See explanation at: https://www.healthnewsreview.org/rThemes.php#sss

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story does mention that the alternative is a pap smear and this vaccine is not a replacement for the pap smear.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story treats the FDA approval as fait accompli. Although the FDA usually goes along with what the panel recommends, approval may not be automatic or occur when reported.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story states that this is a new vaccine.

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

Not Applicable

There is no way to know if the story relied solely on a press release. Only one source is interviewed – a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society.

Total Score: 4 of 9 Satisfactory

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