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Weak story on possible new cancer approach passes along news release claims uncritically


2 Star


Health Buzz: Common Painkiller Fights Cancer; Diclofenac could be the next cancer treatment.

Our Review Summary

Senior man taking pillA very short story explains how an old drug for pain, dicloflenac, might have some new uses in cancer patients. But we found the story lacked a basic explanation of how the researchers measured the benefits of the drug. It also did not include any original reporting and appeared mostly to be a rewrite of the original news release. We understand that short stories – this was 265 words – can’t have everything. But this story could have done a better job.


Why This Matters

The idea of re-purposing existing drugs, already widely used and cheap, is a great potential resource for chronic diseases, including cancer. But this extremely short story does not meet most of our standards for explaining research. The article referenced in the story cites animal studies and studies on cell lines that, while promising, are a long way from the evidence needed to make claims about cancer-fighting potential. There are four clinical studies in progress; this all could have been mentioned.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story calls the drug, which has already been on the market for other uses, “affordable.” We wish the story had provided an actual price, and also some acknowledgment that if this drug is found to have anti-cancer properties, the price will likely go up.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not quantify at all. It barely describes the “cancer-fighting properties” of this compound, dicloflenac. The story says the compound “may improve the immune system, the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation and the development of blood vessels.”

Although the story is short, we think more detail should have been given on what was measured in these small, preliminary studies. Just one example of some numbers, such as how immune response was measured, would have helped.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story did not mention harms. Like all medications, dicloflenac use carries risks and the story should have mentioned some of the most important ones.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story was so brief, and based on such a short news release, that a reader is not able to judge the quality of the evidence. The story could have noted, for example, that there are no human clinical studies, only animal-based basic science research. That’s a flimsy basis upon which to state that the drug “could be the next cancer treatment.”

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


There was no disease mongering.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not show any reporting separate from the news release information. It’s nearly a word for word reproduction of the release.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Applicable

The story does not discuss any alternatives. But since the potential universe of alternatives is so broad (basically all experimental cancer treatments), we’ll rate this Not Applicable.

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


The drug is already widely available and the story makes this clear. However, it’s worth noting that we don’t know what doses might be used for cancer treatment, if it proves useful.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story is clear that this study of dicloflenac is not the first one to look for other uses, beyond those already known.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story appears to rely just on the news release. This quote – for example – is taken directly from the release. The story does not quote anyone independent of the release.

“It’s still somewhat surprising that there is still so much we don’t understand about how many of the standard drugs we use every day, like diclofenac, work,” says study author Pan Pantziarka, PhD, member of the ReDO project and the Anticancer Fund, in a press release.

Kudos to the story for acknowledging the source of the quote, but without any other reporting we can’t award a Satisfactory rating here.

Total Score: 3 of 9 Satisfactory


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