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New prostate cancer test shows greater accuracy

Rating

2 Star

New prostate cancer test shows greater accuracy

Our Review Summary

This story reported on early, preliminary results with a new test that might be used for prostate cancer. The story missed an opportunity to put the news of yet another new way to detect prostate cancer into perspective.  When giving the facts, rather than the number of biopsies, it would have been helpful to simply show the number of men diagnosed and the number of men who actually die to let the sheer epidemiology of the disease help men to understand that this cancer isn't always a killer.  At least the story could have included one line that screening is controversial regardless of method chosen, because it isn't yet clear if treatment saves lives.

The emphasis of the story was on how this test might result in fewer false alarm (false positive) test results than the current PSA test. 

But one would also want to know how well the test finds cancer, and no information was given about that.  

In TV news, graphics and pictures carry as much or more weight as the words scripted or voiced in interviews.  At the beginning of the piece there was a graphic that stated:  "Prostate cancer in the U.S. – 1.6 million men undergo prostate biopsies each year."  That graphic, setting the stage for the story – can be misleading and confusing to viewers.  It could easily be inferred that 1.6 million men each year develop prostate cancer.  And therefore we rate it as disease-mongering.  The American Cancer Society estimates that during 2007 about 218,890 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the United States – a number not provided in the story.

The story interviewed the principal investigator and one other leading urologist.  However, it did not disclose what was abundantly clear even in a Johns Hopkins news release:  the principal investigator receives a share of the royalties received on sales of the test. He is also a paid consultant to the manufacturer of the test. 

There were no quotes from anyone expressing skepticism about the development.  Even the ABC news website had a story with three different experts quoted saying it is too early to draw any conclusions about if and when the test will gain widespread acceptance. But TV viewers heard none of that. 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There was no mention of costs – not of the current PSA test, not of what the new test may cost, not of biopsies.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story attempted to explain benefit only in terms of how often false positive test results were avoided, but there was no discussion of how sensitive the test was in correctly identifying prostate cancer when it did exist. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The story suggests that false positives are the only drawback to prostate cancer screening as it is currently performed (with PSA test).  But that ignores the important fact that prostate cancer screening is not yet proven effective, nor is it proven that treatment of early detected prostate cancer is effective.  Since it is not yet known whether the POTENTIAL benefits of prostate cancer screening (regardless of test used) outweigh the KNOWN harms, the issue of prostate cancer screening remains controversial.  And that controversy was not mentioned, which is a flaw in the story. 

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

Not Satisfactory

There was no discussion of the quality of the evidence nor any discussion of how the new test was tested. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

In TV news, graphics and pictures carry as much or more weight as the words scripted or voiced in interviews.  At the beginning of the piece there was a graphic that stated:  "Prostate cancer in the U.S. – 1.6 million men undergo prostate biopsies each year."  That graphic, setting the stage for the story – can be misleading and confusing to viewers.  It could easily be inferred that 1.6 million men each year develop prostate cancer.  And therefore we rate it as disease-mongering.  The American Cancer Society  estimates that during 2007 about 218,890 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the United States – a number not provided in the story. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The story interviewed the principal investigator and one other leading urologist.  However, it did not disclose what was abundantly clear even in a Johns Hopkins news release:  the principal investigator receives a share of the royalties received on sales of the test. He is also a paid consultant to the manufacturer of the test.  

There were no quotes from anyone expressing skepticism about the development.  Even the ABC news website had a story with three different experts quoted saying it is too early to draw any conclusions about if and when the test will gain widespread acceptance. But TV viewers heard none of that.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There was no mention of the many other attempts in the research pipeline to develop a better prostate cancer test.  There was also no mention of the fact that any men has another important option:  not being tested.  

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

Satisfactory

The story makes it clear that this is early, preliminary research on a test not yet approved by the FDA.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story established that this is a new and different way of looking for prostate cancer.   

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

Not Applicable

We can't judge if the story relied solely or largely on a news release.

Total Score: 2 of 9 Satisfactory

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