The bottom-line message from this story is a good one, and the fact that “skepticism” is mentioned prominently in the headline makes up for the lack of some important details in the body text. While the story overall is strong and it did a decent job of breaking down the costs of this new test, a competing story from Reuters performed better by explaining the harms to a greater degree and doing a better job with independent sourcing.
Genomic testing of healthy people is going to cost this country a lot of money, and the proposed benefits of such testing haven’t been proven at all.
The story broke down the costs of the test to provide a fuller picture than a competing Reuters story. It shows how costs can range from $299 to $699 to $999.
As detailed as it was, we think the story could have gone even further here. The story did not mention insurance coverage, for example, nor did it mention how long one would do “quarterly” testing and what those continuing costs might amount to. The cost of follow-up testing also could have been mentioned.
The story does not quantify the potential benefits of “liquid biopsies” like the one being offered by Pathway. But we are reluctant to rate it Not Satisfactory because it points out that “Pathway hasn’t published any data on its tests.”
The competing Reuters story cites a company-derived 99% accuracy rate for the test, but since that’s never been confirmed in a published study and doesn’t reflect use of the test in real-world conditions, we’d just as soon have a news story not mention it.
We’ll give the benefit of the doubt on the rating.
The story makes a mention of false positives and false negatives. But many readers won’t make the mental leap to the consquences of these false results. A competing Reuters story explained why bad testing can lead to bad health outcomes.
The story talked about some of the criticism around the test and the fact that the company has not published any of its results. We particularly like the closing quote from expert Marleen Meyers:
“Does this translate into improved survival?” she said. “If you’re doing this monitoring every month and you see something a little bit different, should you do something?” Frequent changes in treatment may frustrate patients and ultimately may not add to survival, she said.
There was no disease mongering.
There were independent sources in the story. Although they feel a bit lost in the shadow of the comments and claims from the company, these comments provide an important restraining message.
The true alternative to these tests is routine cancer screening using proven screening methods recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force. In fact, the whole name “liquid biopsies” is wrong. These are not biopsies at all, they are screening tests for healthy people that look for biomarkers of cancer in the blood. But we don’t know what kind of clinical significance they have or if they will lead to better outcomes.
Neither story provided this context. Bloomberg does mention some tests that are being offered by competing genomics companies, as well as similar types of direct to consumer screening approaches. But these aren’t the real alternatives that we think should have been discussed in the story.
It’s not clear from the story whether a patient can go into a doctor and demand one of these tests, buy one at a pharmacy, or order one from home.
The story explains that this type of liquid biopsy is not, in fact, novel but actually part of a growing field of competing tests.
The story goes beyond any news release.