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Prostate cancer being overtreated, study shows


4 Star

Prostate cancer being overtreated, study shows

Our Review Summary

The story describes a study which quantifies the number of men who might be overtreated with surgery or radiation for prostate cancer. The story does a nice job of describing the natural history of prostate cancer, that is, that many prostate cancers are slow-growing and that many men don’t need treatment, which can have troublesome side effects. The article could have been more clear about the study design and exactly how many men were estimated to have been “overtreated.” Viewers are provided information about how many men were candidates for watchful waiting and could easily assume that any man who did not choose this approach was overtreated. Yet the actual study reports 10% of men were “overtreated.” The story also strangely reports an anecdotal story of one man who presumably chose watchful waiting. Yet this man also took a course of hormone therapy, which has multiple bothersome side effects related to depletion of nearly all a man’s testosterone (side effects like loss of sex drive). It’s confusing why this example was chosen, when this isn’t normally considered an option for men with low-risk prostate cancer.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

No costs of treatment–any treatment–are described.

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

Not Satisfactory

The study measured how many men with low-risk prostate cancer (who would be appropriate candidates for watchful waiting) had either surgery or radiation. While the aim of the study was to quantify and report an estimated figure for “overtreatment,” the story doesn’t really describe that. Viewers could think that all men reported in the story as having low-risk prostate cancer and who were treated with surgery or radiation were overtreated (half of 25,000 men), when the actual study reports 10% of men were overtreated.

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


Major harms of surgery or radiation are provided–incontinence and sexual problems. On the flip side, the article also points out that some cancers can be life-threatening (a risk of watchful waiting, although not explicitly stated here is that a man could miss a chance to “cure” his cancer).

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


The story explains that researchers collected records of men who had prostate cancer, so an astute viewer could potentially figure out that this was a cohort study (retrospective). It could be clearer.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story describes the natural history of prostate cancer, and specifically, the fact that it is usually slow-growing and that many men may never need treatment, which is true. However, the anecdotal story, which presumably is a shining example of a watchful waiting perspective, is troublesome. This man reports being bothered by the thought of side effects and yet reports having hormone therapy, which itself has many side effects (including loss of sex drive) and it isn’t clear from the story whether this was even indicated for his cancer (so, he could be substituting one harmful treatment for another).

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


The story quotes an expert not related to the research to confirm that prostate cancer is often unnecessary to treat.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story describes four treatment options–surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, and watchful waiting. However, in the example given, a man who chose not to have surgery or radiation opted for hormone therapy, which can also have significant side effects that weren’t discussed. This isn’t a good example of a “watchful waiting” strategy.

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


The story mentions 4 treatment options: surgery, radiation, hormonal therapy and watchful waiting. It states that many men choose either surgery or radiation, implying these treatments are widely available and it also relates an anecdotal story of one man choosing some form of watchful waiting, implying this approach is also available (although the man’s story, and specifically, the addition of hormone treatment to watchful waiting isn’t the traditional view of this approach).

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The option of watchful waiting, while historically less commonly pursued than other more active treatments, is not new, which the article implies.

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


There’s no evidence the story relied solely on a news release.

Total Score: 8 of 10 Satisfactory


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