Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Reblog] Canadian journalist: every cancer cure claim needs scrutiny (with related critical thinking resources)

From the 17 October 2013 item at HealthNewsReview.org

Carly Weeks of The Globe and Mail, based in Toronto, writes, “Why every claim of an exciting new cancer cure needs close examination.” She begins:

“The Internet loves a good conspiracy.

Have you heard the one about scientists finding a cure for cancer, but it being blocked from the public because Big Pharma can’t make a cent off it?

Those sensational accusations appear on multiple websites and YouTube videos that purport to expose the “truth” about how a cheap and safe drug that has been around for decades is actually an expert cancer-cell killer. They claim that because the drug, called dichloroacetic acid or dichloroacetate (DCA), is a widely available chemical compound and can’t be patented, drug companies aren’t interested in pursuing it as a cancer treatment. Some conspiracy theorists take it a step further, saying that health organizations and cancer charities are in on the plot to keep this miracle drug out of sight because they have ties to drug firms and want to keep money flowing their way.

It reads like the plot of a cheesy gift-shop thriller.

However, the idea that DCA may be used to eradicate cancer cells originated in respected medical journals, not the bowels of the Internet. Subsequent media attention painted a glowing picture of DCA as a cancer treatment, which led to a frenzy among patients and family members desperately hoping for a cure.

The true picture, however, is far less clear.”

That’s the hook.  Now please read the rest of her analysis.  But note how she describes media coverage through the years that referred to the drug as “a potentially life-saving treatment” that “astounded” researchers….and “a miracle drug” (including in her own newspaper). She concludes:

“Every week, dozens of press releases cross the news wires, alerting editors and readers to a new “breakthrough” or “landmark discovery” that may forever change the way a disease is treated.

What is often missing from those announcements is that those discoveries may just as likely change nothing. True breakthroughs are rare and the development of important new treatments takes years – decades, even – of rigorous research and study. Overzealous reporting of preliminary findings may generate positive publicity for researchers and institutions, but it does patients no favours.”

Earlier this week I wrote about a fresh New York Times story that referred to a line of cancer research as ““amazing…game-changer…watershed moment.”

Canadians Weeks, her colleague Andre Picard at the same newspaper and rising star Julia Belluz (now on a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT) seem to scrutinize evidence in media messages and even criticize news coverage more often than any of their U.S. colleagues in mainstream news organizations.  And I applaud them for their efforts.  Wish we saw more of it down here in the land of guns and Obamacare.

 

Related Resources

Anyone can publish information on the Internet. So it is up to the searcher to decide if the information found through search engines (as Google) is reliable or not. Search engines find Web sites but do not evaluate them for content. Sponsored links may or may not contain good information.
A few universities and government agencies have published great guides on evaluating information.
Here are a few
  • The Penn State Medical Center Library has a great guide to evaluate health information on the Internet.

    The tips include

    • Remember, anyone can publish information on the internet!
    • If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
      If the Web site is primarily about selling a product, the information may be worth checking from another source.
    • Look for who is publishing the information and their education, credentials, and if they are connected with a trusted coporation, university or agency.
    • Check to see how current the information is.
    • Check for accuracy. Does the Web site refer to specific studies or organizations?

The Family Caregiver Alliance has a Web page entitled Evaluating Medical Research Findings and Clinical Trials
Topics include

  • General Guidelines for Evaluating Medical Research
  • Getting Information from the Web
  • Talking with your Health Care Provider

Additional Resources

 
And a Rumor Control site of Note (in addition to Quackwatch)
 

National Council Against Health Fraud

National Council Against Health Fraud is a nonprofit health agency fousing on health misinformation, fruad, and quackery as public health problems. Links to publications, position papers and more.

How to Read a Research Paper

Medical research results are increasingly available to all of us. However, caution is urged in interpreting results. For example, be very careful to not confuse causation with association.

Just because two factors occur together does not mean one causes the other. For example, eating fish may result in lower cholesterol levels. But it may just mean one is eating less read meat. Another example is recent news item about insulin use and cancer. Some say insulin use can cause cancer, while others insist insulin users are predisposed to cancers.)

The MedlinePlus Topic Page Understanding Medical Research has links to tutorials, overviews, and more

A sampling of links

 

October 22, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

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