The story felt like a recitation of the journal article, with no evidence of any independent reporting or analysis. To make things worse, it had a glaring error on the quality of life data.
Bringing information about this new study to the public is important because it represents a substantial advance in treatment of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately this story misinterpreted the findings about quality of life – and so misled readers.
No discussion of costs.
One of the online commenters on the CNN website wrote:
“What is the cost for these treatments? How long would the person live with no chemotherapy, just drugs for pain management? If a person wants to pay for these treatments on their own dime that’s one thing. But as a society that shares limited resources for health care can we really afford to spend inordinate amounts to prolong a person’s life a couple months? Not heartless, just pragmatic.”
Another wrote, in response:
“I was one who was fortunate enough to be on Gemcitabine (at $2,000 per prescription for 6 weeks) after a whipple and radiation. That was almost 7 years ago. I have been able to further my education, re-marry, and watch my young son grow into a young adult.”
Yet the story itself was silent on costs.
The story barely explained the benefits seen in the study, and failed to put them into the context of what pancreatic cancer patients face as well as the competing USA Today story did.
The story was badly incomplete and confusiong in reporting on harms.
First, it inaccurately reported that “the quality of life for patients on FOLFIRINOX was not as good….After six months, only 31% of patients on FOLFIRINOX reported a decent quality of life, compared with 66% of those on gemcitabine.” That’s wrong. The researchers reported: “At 6 months, 31% of the patients in the FOLFIRINOX group had a definitive decrease in the scores on the Global Health Status and Quality
of Life scale versus 66% in the gemcitabine group. Significant increases in the time until definitive deterioration in the quality of life were also
noted in the FOLFIRINOX group for all functional and symptom scales.” So quality of life was BETTER, not worse in the Folfirinox group.
And the reporting of harms was oddly incomplete. The story stated: “At least 5% of patients on the drug combination suffered from low white blood cell counts, fatigue, serious diarrhea, a loss of feeling in their feet and hands, as well as hair loss.”
Why did the story report that statistic instead some of these easily explained in the journal article:
75 of those in the Folfirinox group (46%) had neutropenia compared with 35 in the Gemcitabine group (21%)
21 of those in the Folfirinox group (13%) had diarrhea compared with 3 in the Gemcitabine group (2%)
15 of those in the Folfirinox group (9%) had sensory neuropathy compared with 0 in the Gemcitabine group ???
There was no evaluation of the quality of the evidence – only a recitation of data reported. No independent expert perspective provided.
No disease-mongering of pancreatic cancer in the story.
No independent source is cited.
We thought USA Today did a much better job, ending their story with this independent expert perspective:
“…doctors are testing other drug combinations to treat pancreatic cancer. She’s hopeful that these combinations will work as well or better than Folfirinox, with fewer serious side effects. Folfirinox “is going to be one of a host of options” for patients, Azad says ”
There was no independent perspective in this story and no such comparison with other approaches being researched for pancreatic cancer.
The availability of the drugs was not discussed. This was a story about a French study. Are the drugs widely available in the US? The story never explained.
The relative novelty of Folfirinox was never established or explained.
Not applicable. We can’t be sure of the extent to which the story relied on any news release, as no one is interviewed.