Oct 2, 2016

Is the Reporting of Cancer Research Usually (or even mostly) Accurate?

The cancer information site, Cancer.Net has published information to help us everyday health care consumers to judge the sometimes spectacular sounding medical news. Medical news changes day by day and week by week. If you see terms like "breakthrough" or "life changing drug is discovered,"--be skeptical. The article and claims may be questioned or discredited a week or two from now. It is difficult to know what to believe and whether or not you should do something to take advantage of the "new" information.

How can you tell if medical news is accurate? That is the question. There are hundreds of news sources--newspapers, magazines, blogs, podcasts, and on and on. They very often provide spectacular, miraculous, and conflicting "facts and figures." Many of us are eager to believe that a "miracle" can happen. But before you fly off to a foreign country for treatment or spend thousands of dollars out of your own pocket, ask some questions and do your homework. 

Here are a few things you can ask or consider or do...

1   First of all, check with your doctor and medical team.
2   Find a link to the actual research study site (if there is one).
3   Was the research conducted on animals, humans, or by computer simulation?
4   Was the research reported by the New England Journal of Medicine or Journal of the American Medical Association or the National Cancer Institute? If so, it is more likely to be accurate.
5   Were the results based on extensive human Clinical Trials?
6   Have you considered participating in clinical trials to help get the best research results?
7   Check for FDA approval or the status of the approval process.
8   Does the article report information about risk? There is always risk.
9   Is there concrete evidence of an improved survival benefit?
10  Who stands to get rich if the treatment becomes widely available?
11  Does the research and reporting promise a "cure?" 
12  Does the reporting claim the treatment will help everybody with cancer? One size fits all is a highly unlikely outcome.
13  What specific cancer conditions reportedly will be affected by the treatment?
14  Is the reporting based  mostly on somebody's "Expert Opinion?" Beware.
15  Even compelling research evidence can take years before treatments become available to patients.

Be skeptical, do your homework, and look into available clinical trials in your areas of need and interest. Every FDA approved treatment started as a clinical trial. And many  clinical trials that seemed promising never proved effective enough to get FDA approval.

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(c) 2012 Tom Beer and Larry Axmaker