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New melanoma treatment — a turning point against cancer?


3 Star


New melanoma treatment — a turning point against cancer?

Our Review Summary

The story overflowed with overstatement.

This is important research that requires no hyperbole.  Let the facts and the science speak.  No sensationalism is necessary.

It is possible to report on single case studies better than this – by providing caveats and context, not projections beyond what the scope of the work in question.


Why This Matters

Imagine the impact on the lives of people with melanoma who see a network TV story or this online version that this single case study could result in “saving or prolonging thousands of lives.”


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

No mention of costs.  Ipilimumab has been estimated to cost $120,000 for a course of therapy.  It takes 3 second to include that on the air – a dozen more words in an online story.

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

Not Satisfactory

It’s not so much the fact that limited network TV news time was devoted to a single case study (do we need to roll out the past single case studies reported on network TV that didn’t pan out?), but the suggestion in the opening line – that this finding “could indicate a significant change of the course of cancer treatment — perhaps saving or prolonging thousands of lives” – is unwarranted projection at this point.

Why would a news story employ this kind of cheerleading framing – from a single case study in one person to a projection of saving/prolonging thousands of lives?

It’s not necessary and it’s misleading.

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

Not Satisfactory

No mention of harms.  There are actually two treatments at play both of which can cause significant side effects.     Even a link to the manufacturer’s website would have addressed the issue for Ipilimumab.  Radiation has its own set of side effects as well.

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

Not Satisfactory

The elevation of a single case study to prime time network news and online news attention – without any discussion of the limitations of such a finding – is not sound practice.

The language of the story also conveys a cheerleading tone not supported by this one case study:

  • “could indicate a significant change of the course of cancer treatment — perhaps saving or prolonging thousands of lives.”
  • “ipilimumab.. works in only 10 percent to 20 percent of patients. Until now, no one knew why.” Our comment: The “until now” implies that now it IS definitively known why the drug works in only 10-20% of people.  That’s not the case after this single case study.
  •  “Already the researchers are planning a nationwide clinical trial to determine if the findings can allow the drug to help many more patients with advanced melanoma. …They also believe the same approach could work for kidney, lung and other cancers.” Our comment: think about what this is saying.  One case study.  Clinical trials in melanoma are just now being planned.  Yet the story leaps ahead to “could work for other cancers.” 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No disease mongering at play here.

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

Not Satisfactory

The centerpiece of the story is the ipilimumab cae study.  So, although an expert is quoted it was not in relation to the main story line. No independent expert was quoted on the ipilimumab case study, and it was badly needed.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


We’ll give the story the benefit of the doubt because it accurately stated “there are few treatments for advanced melanoma.”

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


The story stated that ipilimumab was approved in 2011 for advanced melanoma treatment.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The relative novelty of this finding was the whole focus of the story, although perhaps overstating its significance at this early stage.

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


It does not appear that the story relied on a news release.

Total Score: 5 of 10 Satisfactory

Comments (2)

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Jim Breitfeller

March 11, 2012 at 6:06 pm

If you and they had done your homework you would have found out that Irradiation has been used in cancer before to help shed tumor-specific antiges/proteins. It has also been found that the dying tumor cells secrete a protien called HGMB-1 and binds to a Toll Like Receptor 4 (TLR4) on dendritic cells (DCs) and activates the innate part of our immune system. With the right tumor antigen that is presented on the antigen presenting cells (APCs) and the activation of the T-cell, one can erradicate the melanoma tumors.
Dr. Steven A Rosenberg at the NCI uses whole body irradaition prior to Adopitive Cell Therapy (ACT).
I thought you might like to know

Jim Breitfeller Stage IV Melanoma Survivor