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New Chemo Drug May Benefit Some Breast Cancer Patients

Rating

4 Star

Categories

New Chemo Drug May Benefit Some Breast Cancer Patients

Our Review Summary

The article clearly details the survival benefit of eribulin, but it fails to tell readers that the drug has been approved in the United States.  It also fell short because it did not explain how much the drug costs or how often harms occurred in the study.

 

Why This Matters

Metastatic breast cancer becomes progressively more difficult to treat as various therapies become less effective.  This study suggests that eribulin is the first single-agent chemotherapy that extended the survival time of women with metastatic breast cancer who had already been treated with two to five other chemotherapies.  This study is likely to generate significant interest and may change clinical practice for metastatic patients.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There is no discussion of cost in the article.

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

Satisfactory

The benefit of eribulin over various treatments chosen by the physicians was clearly stated in the article.  “The researchers found that among patients whose cancer had spread, those who took the drug (eribulin) lived a median of 2.5 months longer than those who received a physician-chosen treatment — 13.1 months versus 10.6 months.”

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

Not Satisfactory

Mixed bag.

While the story points out the most common side effects, fatigue and depletion of white blood cells, occurred in both study groups, readers aren’t given any sense of how common these were.  In fact, they were quite common: these side effects occurred in 54% of those on eribulin and 40% of patients in the treatment of physician’s choice group.  This is why we expect stories to quantify harms.

To its credit, the article does note that the most common adverse event that caused women to drop out of the eribulin arm was neuropathy, or numbness and pain caused by nerve damage – and it notes a 5% study drop out rate.

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

Satisfactory

The article does a good job of noting several times that the women in the trial, known as EMBRACE, all had metastatic breast cancer that had already been heavily treated with various chemotherapies.  And it did give the number of women in each arm of the trial and at least mentioned that this was a “global phase 3 study” – although that’s expecting readers to grasp what that really means.  We’ll call it barely satisfactory.

It’s always a judgment call for journalists on where to draw the line on details to include or leave out.  But some that maybe should have been included:

  • this was a randomized, open-label trial and that all of the women in both arms of the trial had previously been treated with both an anthracycline and a taxane.
  • the trial was conducted from 2006 to 2008 at 135 locations in 19 countries.

The article also fails to mention potential weaknesses of the trial design that were highlighted in the study.  The authors of the study pointed out that the treatment of physician’s choice group included several different chemotherapies precluding detailed comparisons with eribulin.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There is no disease-mongering.

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

Satisfactory

The article includes quotes from an independent expert, Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and from a related editorial also published in The Lancet.

The story points out that the study was funded by the company that markets eribulin but it should have further noted that several of the authors of the study received grants or consultancy fees from Eisai.  In addition, five of the study authors are employees of Eisai.

We’ll rule this one barely satisfactory.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The survival benefit for women who were treated with eribulin is clearly presented.  The article also included the definition of the treatment of the physician’s choice that was used by the study authors.

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

Not Satisfactory

The article does not report that eribulin, the drug studied, received approval in the United States based on the results of the study.  Eribulin is approved for patients who have previously been treated for metastatic breast cancer with at least two chemotherapies, including an anthracycline and a taxane.

As a result, the availability of the drug is unclear to readers.  Information about drug approval and availability is valuable for patients with metastatic breast cancer.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The article establishes the novelty of eribulin by quoting from the study authors, as well as from a related editorial in The Lancet and from an independent authority, Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.  Dr. Bernik said “This drug shows much promise, and it should certainly be included in additional trials to fully establish its benefit.”

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

Satisfactory

The article did not rely solely on a news release.

Total Score: 7 of 10 Satisfactory

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