This story presents the results of an experimental approach to treating virulent forms of melanoma while tempering the enthusiasm that the results of this one study might generate. Although it is striking that the two patients who survived would have likely succumbed to the disease without the experimental intervention, it is important to remain aware that 15 of the 17 treated patients died. This article presented both of these important pieces of information. While this new experimental approach is of interest, it is important to be mindful that the majority of individuals diagnosed with melanoma are successfully treated using conventional methods. And the story did not mention that at least some of these treatments were used in conjunction with the experimental approach in this study. The article did not point out that this treatment was only for those melanomas which were not responsive to these conventional approaches. Although gene therapy continues to hold promise, the article provided a helpful framework for understanding that such promise will likely be slow and, to date, has not yet led to successful cancer treatments.
There was no estimate of the costs for this kind of individualized cancer treatment.
It is appropriate that the story mentioned that although the two men who appear to have responded to the treatment were still alive, it was still too early to conclude that they could be categorized as ‘cured’. The article cautioned that even after 5 years, when the cancer might be considered cured, it could still reoccur. The article also pointed out that this success was seen in only 2 of the 17 individuals receiving this treatment; the other 15 had died.
However, the article did not mention the success rate of currently available therapies for melanoma, nor the historic mortality rate. Without knowing the mortality rate with standard therapy for widely metastatic melanomas such as these, it is not possible to quantify the potential benefit of this therapy.
There was no mention of harms or side-effects that have been experienced with this form of treatment.
The article mentions that the results were published in a recent online issue of the journal Science. The article did mention that published results did not contain many details about the patients in whom this experimental approach appeared to be successful. But the paper could have found that information before publishing the story. The article did not mention that the results presented were actually part of a clinical trial which was not yet complete.
Cancer has a scary connotation for most people. This story failed to inform the viewer about how common death from melanoma was. While they presented an estimate for the number of Americans that will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2006 (~ 60,000) there was no mention that it is estimated that there would be <8,000 deaths attributable to melanoma. This information is helpful for recognizing that melanoma is much less common and deadly than a number of other diseases.
This article included helpful comments from clinicians familiar with the experimental approach but who were not directly involved with this particular study. They help to temper the enthusiasm of the principal investigator on this project and to balance the piece.
There was no mention of the use of autologous tumor infiltrating lymphocyte treatment which, although effective in roughly half the patients for whom it is an option, is not a possibility for all patients. There was no mention of the surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and biologic therapy that are currently used in the treatment of melanoma. The story did not mention that at least some of these treatments were used in conjunction with the experimental treatment.
The article states that for now only 17 patients have undergone the experimental approach as part of an ongoing and novel study and mentions that the researchers have recently applied to the FDA for approval to conduct a clinical trial in several hundred patients. If approval is obtained, then it is possible that patients without other treatment options might be able to participate in the trial. The article did not specifically state that the approach is not widely available yet, but this can be inferred. However it is important for patients to understand that participation in a trial is not the same as receiving treatment.
The approach of using cells from a patient’s own immune system, engineered to recognize a specific marker protein on the surface of the tumor cells as part of a therapeutic approach to the treatment of cancer is an area of active investigation. This is a first report of success with this type of approach.
This article does not appear to rely exclusively on a press release as its sole source of information