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26Sep 2012

CNN: Worst "cancer-cure" hype ever?

Moon shot

If you weren't watching CNN all day last Friday, you missed the most explosive medical story of the decade--no, of the past half century--when Dr. Sanjay Gupta announced a plan to "drastically reduce" cancer cases and deaths in 5 years! The exclamation point is his, not mine. And if you think I'm making this up, here is his tweet:

Dr. Sanjay Gupta @sanjayguptaCNN

BREAKING cure for #cancer close says md anderson. plan to "drastically reduce" cases & deaths n 5yrs! im reporting excl details all day @cnn

"We realize Gupta wasn't trained as a journalist, and it shows," was Gary Schwitzer's acid comment on HealthNewsReview.org, where I got wind of this. 

It's hard to guess what viewers took away from these reports, some of which CNN posted to Youtube. But if they thought that the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston had come up with a new cure, they were badly misled by Gupta's irresponsible reporting.

If you have cancer, or a family member has cancer, I apologize for bringing this to your attention. Be assured that there was no development on Friday that will change the outlook for a cure. And be assured that neither MD Anderson nor CNN has an "exclusive" on curing cancer. Everyone in cancer research is trying to cure cancer, prevent it, or ameliorate the lives of those who have it.

All this noise apparently came from an MD Anderson press release. "The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center announces the launch of the Moon Shots Program, an unprecedented effort to dramatically accelerate the pace of converting scientific discoveries into clinical advances that reduce cancer deaths," it began. It was posted Thursday.

I'm cringing.

Somebody should remind MD Anderson's publicists that the moon-shot metaphor refers to a space program that turned out to be a dead end: Once NASA put a few people on the moon, it dropped the whole thing.

I don't have the fortitude to go through Gupta's reporting piece by piece, but, fortunately, the veteran medical reporter Andrew Holtz has already done so at HealthNewsReview.org.

This could be the worst case of hyping cancer cures I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot. I'm making a note to check in with Gupta in five years, when cancer cases and deaths are supposed to be "drastically reduced," and ask him how it's going. It's on my calendar.

-Paul Raeburn

Comments

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Not only did this stunning insight spark an orgy of unfounded hope among cancer sufferers and their families (including close friends of mine), a stampede by desperate people trying to get the miracle cure, a major move in the stock of a company Obat herbal kanker payudara obat herbal jus manggis obat herbal jantung

Worst cancer hype ever?  My vote still goes to that all-time classic, Gina Kolata's 1998 masterpiece of meretriciousness, "Hope in the Lab," which unforgettably quoted James Watson to the effect that Judah Folkman would cure cancer in two years.  Not only did this stunning insight spark an orgy of unfounded hope among cancer sufferers and their families (including close friends of mine), a stampede by desperate people trying to get the miracle cure, a major move in the stock of a company, but it inspired one of the truly great threads on the National Association of Science Writers listerserv and a subseqyent scholarly article http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953601001605 analyzing the NASW discussion.  Now that's world-class hype worthy of the name!  For my money, Gupta has a way to go reach such an Olympian height of journalistic irresponsibility.

Yes, that is a great post-mortem. I also came across some interesting stories about M.D. Anderson president Ronald DePinho's financial conflicts: http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/M-D-Anderson-president-s.... And another about him pushing the stock of his company, Aveo Oncology, on CNBC's “Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo”: http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/06/texas-cancer-centre-head-apologizes-for-promoting-stock-on-television.html.

See our followup, "Things CNN didn't report about the MD Anderson 'cancer cure close' story"

Gary Schwitzer

Publisher

HealthNewsReview.org

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