In the last week alone, the media featured reports about 2 new ways for treating prostate cancer, the most common cancer for men in the UK. One of them added more concrete evidence with regards to the already many health benefits from drinking green tea – that the polyphenols in the tea can prevent prostate cancer progressing (see here).
The other remedy, about using a new drug, ipilimumab, may have raised many present cancer sufferers’ hopes, but the truth is that this new treatment is only in Phase 1 trial stage (there are 4 stages to go through before a drug is released for general public use). This means at the earliest, this drug will only be available in 2012; and this too, assuming it passes all the 4 Phases. Another new drug for prostate cancer which first made headlines in 2008, abiraterone, is now in Phase 3 and will be general use only in 2011. So, these ‘premature’ announcements in the lay press at best give an insight of probable cures to come, but are of little use to present-day sufferers.
In the best scenario, a new drug will appear after a few years and it will be costly(you bet!); and in the worse-case scenario, it will be consigned to the waste-basket due to the presence of terrible side-effects which hitherto had not yet been detected.
So why does the media appear to overplay new drug discoveries?
Put it simply, such items are big news..and news sells! Not forgetting, of course, the commercial benefits the company producing the drugs receive, or the publicity it attracts to the researchers concerned!
Here are some tips on how to evaluate news items that you may come across..
- It is a fact that competition is intense among medical journals, research bodies and medical journals to attract media attention. Media themselves compete with each other to come out with the latest. Try to read the same news from several sources. Obviously, if the item is reported in just one obscure source, it should carry less weight.
- Look for key-words like suggestive or may (as opposed to will) as this does not always indicate a cause and effect meaning. Many people make hard-core assumptions based on such words.
- It is the nature of scientific studies that, for a given topic, several would say one thing and a few would say the complete opposite. It is for the trained professional and their peer-groups to make an informed decision to advise consumers. Bear in mind that space is a premium with the mass media and such reports usually omit vital details which will affect accuracy.
- Separate the wheat from the chaff..make sure the website you’re looking at is a reliable one!
- Personally, I feel reports originating from researchers and pharma companies should not appear in the mass media without vetting by an appropriate professional body so as to convey the proper perspective to the audience at large. So if a news report originates from a known professional body, that should carry a lot of weight; as opposed to a solitary item in a health magazine.
Share this Post