I'm still ruminating over the post I wrote yesterday trying to sort out the news in the breast-cancer study published Sunday in Nature. Apparently, George Johnson, an author and a contributor to The New York Times, is ruminating, too. I have proof--he published his ruminations on his blog, The Cancer Chronicles.
Much of the coverage of the study, as I noted yesterday, led with the idea that researchers had identified four kinds of breast cancer, a claim featured most prominently by The New York Times in a front-page story by Gina Kolata. My random walk through Google suggested that the four types had already been known, and I cited a 2006 JAMA study that had mentioned them.
Johnson has sorted it out on his blog, and the answer is more subtle than I had appreciated. According to Johnson, researchers have, for at least a decade, been talking about molecular subtypes of cancer--luminal A, luminal B, HER2-enriched, and basal-like. "The new study appears to go further," he wrote, noting that cancers that test positive for HER2 "do not necessarily fall into the same genetic category called HER2-enriched."
Johnson also proposed that the bigger news--I had my suspicions about this--was that one kind of breast cancer was strikingly similar to a kind of ovarian cancer.
This does not change the conclusion I came to yesterday: With some exceptions, the press did not do a very good job covering this study.