Monday, 15 March 2010

Raising false hopes with cancer coverage

After recent front page headlines about toxic juice and dodgy slimming pills, the Express newspapers reverted to a 'miracle cure' for cancer on Sunday 7 March.

Cancer 'code' is cracked, it said. The 'greatest discovery since chemotherapy' it suggested.

If it was, you might have expected it to be on the front of others newspapers.

But a clue is in the sub-head:

New theory could be 'greatest discovery since chemotherapy'.

'Theory'? 'Could'? Not quite so convincing, is it?

Lucy Johnston's article continues:

researchers believe they have, against the odds, succeeded in halting the spread of advanced cancer.

And the researchers focused on ovarian cancer.

Of course, any research that may help the fight against cancer is a good thing. But in reality, this is preliminary data about stopping the growth of ovarian cancer.

Indeed, in a Sydney Morning Herald article a couple of weeks before (yes, the Express is on the ball, as ever) research team leader Prof Michael Quinn was quoted saying:

'The tumours have stopped growing - that's all we had hoped for. I don't think this is the magic bullet yet but it's certainly enough for us to continue our work.'

Which isn't exactly evidence of the cancer code being 'cracked'.

Cancer Research UK, in their blogpost 'Cancer code cracked'? Not just yet, have pointed out some factual inaccuracies in the Sunday Express' article and dismissed their presentation of the research:

Sadly the story is actually only based on an idea rather than on concrete scientific evidence.


It will be interesting to see the detailed, published results of the trial once it is completed.

But until then, it’s impossible to say whether this is a significant advance in treatment for the disease.


Unfortunately this story doesn’t present any hard data, and it is too early to say whether the researchers’ theory will hold up in more detailed tests with a larger sample of patients.

'Breakthrough' is simply too strong to describe this work and it’s certainly not 'the most exciting development since the introduction of chemotherapy in the Fifties'.

The only real development here is the raising of false hopes for people with cancer and their families.

That last point is the most important. Bad reporting is a given at the Express newspapers.

But it is irresponsible for them (and other tabloids) to continue to run these misleading 'miracle cure' stories, which raise 'false hopes' for the sake of an eye-catching headline.

1 comment:

  1. If you're looking for comedy copying, there's nothing quite like football journalism


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