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Category: cancer

How often are researchers forced to abandon expensive clinical trials in cancer research?

More often than you might think. A study presented earlier this month at the Genitourinary Cancers Symposium found that one-fifth of studies of cancer clinical trials from 2005-2011 were ended prematurely for reasons...

How often are researchers forced to abandon expensive clinical trials in cancer research?

More often than you might think. A study presented earlier this month at the Genitourinary Cancers Symposium found that one-fifth of studies of cancer clinical trials from 2005-2011 were ended prematurely for reasons that had nothing to do with the effectiveness of the treatments or the health of the subjects.

That's an astonishing figure. Imagine if General Motors abandoned one-fifth of its cars before completing them, and instead tossed them on some scrap heap. Or imagine if hospitals dismissed one-fifth of their patients before completing their treatment. The cancer problem is even worse, because it affects not only the subjects thrown out, but untold numbers of others who might have benefitted from what would have been learned with completion of the trial.

"This problem has huge implications," said one of the study's authors, Kristian Stensland of the...

Dr. William London, a professor of public health at California State University, Los Angeles, writes in HealthNewsReview.org about...

Dr. William London, a professor of public health at California State University, Los Angeles, writes in HealthNewsReview.org about a story on KGET last July 12th on a local doctor "fighting a deadly cancer diagnosis through natural remedies and spiritual healing."

Under a Bakersfield, California dateline, KGET reported that the doctor, Boyce Dulan, practiced medicine for 33 years, most of that with the Kern County Public Health Department. "Now he's throwing his medical background out the door, focusing on natural healing to fight the battle of his life," the station reported. He "sought the help of a Christian medical therapist and...

In a post I wrote last week, I critiqued a cancer story in Esquire that I thought was sometimes misleading, sometimes wrong, and not very well written.

Today, the authors of the piece, Mark Warren...

In a post I wrote last week, I critiqued a cancer story in Esquire that I thought was sometimes misleading, sometimes wrong, and not very well written.

Today, the authors of the piece, Mark Warren (left, photo) and Tom Junod (right), responded. "Our story, which is entitled 'Patient Zero,' does not meet [Raeburn's] ideal of what science journalism should be; as such, he is free to criticize it," they wrote.

So far, so good. Then this: "What he is not free to do, however, is to turn his disapproval of our storytelling into an attempt to discredit us and our effort to obtain advanced medical care for a woman we care about deeply."

I scrambled back to my post to see where I'd discredited their effort to help a...

[Editor's note: See more here with Esquire's response calling this post "grotesque," and my reply.]

If you're looking for "a whole new way of killing cancer," don't turn to...

[Editor's note: See more here with Esquire's response calling this post "grotesque," and my reply.]

If you're looking for "a whole new way of killing cancer," don't turn to the journals. You'll find it in Esquire.

There Tom Junod and Mark Warren write about a scientist who says the difference between others' research and his is "the difference between medieval alchemy and chemistry."  Trained as a mathematician, he picked up biology from textbooks. "Molecular biology, after pure math, struck him as ridiculously easy," Junod and Warren write.

Some of this puffery seems to come from the mouth of the scientist, Eric Schadt (photo)--chair of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine's...

In "The Cost of Living" in New York Magazine, the science writer Stephen S. Hall tries to explain why cancer drugs cost so much.

He goes through the familiar litany of drugs with excessive prices...

In "The Cost of Living" in New York Magazine, the science writer Stephen S. Hall tries to explain why cancer drugs cost so much.

He goes through the familiar litany of drugs with excessive prices that give patients only an extra few weeks of life expectancy. Even for those who have heard these kinds of numbers before, they seem incredible. Avastin, a drug that has proven to be effective against advanced colon cancer, costs about $5,000 a month and extends median overall survival by 42 days. And it has to be taken for months to give patients those 42 days.

Hall quotes an oncologist who does the math to figure out what the cost of Avastin is for a year of life saved. The answer: $303,000, according to Hall.

Why, asks Hall, is the price so high? Avastin is not an outlier; newer drugs cost multiples of what Avastin does.

Hall talks about efforts by...

[Note: George Johnson is a friend of mine. That disqualifies me as a reviewer, so please consider this a notice of a book you might find interesting--not a review.]

George Johnson's newest book, The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery, begins,...

[Note: George Johnson is a friend of mine. That disqualifies me as a reviewer, so please consider this a notice of a book you might find interesting--not a review.]

George Johnson's newest book, The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery, begins, improbably, on the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway in Colorado, with Johnson trying to imagine what western Colorado looked like 150 million years ago. Denver was near sea level, grasses and flowers had not yet evolved, and giant termite nests stood 30 feet tall.

"It was somewhere in these parts that a dinosaur bone was discovered that displays what may be the oldest known case of cancer," he writes. From there, he settles in to a discussion of what fossilized cancer might tell us about why some people get more cancer than others. This was seven years after his then-wife, Nancy, was "diagnosed with a rabid cancer that sprouted for no good reason...

John Fauber, an investigative reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today will share the 2013 Victor Cohn prize for medical reporting with Joanne Silberner, a former NPR correspondent, now freelancing. The prize...

John Fauber, an investigative reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today will share the 2013 Victor Cohn prize for medical reporting with Joanne Silberner, a former NPR correspondent, now freelancing. The prize is administered by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

Fauber, whose stories have frequently drawn praise on the Tracker, was recognized for an investigative series entitled Side Effects, on financial conflicts of interest among doctors and medical researchers. Fauber has been doing this for years, in a joint arrangement with the newspaper and...

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has been the top-ranked cancer center on US News & World Report's best-of list for the past 7 years. But that top ranking was aided by a massive error in data used to evaluate its care.

The error in M.D. Anderson's...

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has been the top-ranked cancer center on US News & World Report's best-of list for the past 7 years. But that top ranking was aided by a massive error in data used to evaluate its care.

The error in M.D. Anderson's favor was made by--M.D. Anderson! Avery Comarow, who assembles the rankings at U.S. News, told The Cancer Letter that this was a huge "screw-up." The hospital systematically misclassified emergency patients, which led to the exclusion of nearly 40 percent of admissions, Paul Goldberg, The Cancer Letter's editor, reported. He said the error was discovered in 2009, but no way could be found to correct it. "Since U.S. News averages data over three years, the results of the M.D. Anderson top rating by the magazine released July 16 are still partially...

Correction/Apology: As the research being covered in these stories is important and serious, I regret that I was too flippant with my original headline, which indirectly may have implied that the hype was the fault of the researchers.

Someone sent me an interesting link to a story from the website...

Correction/Apology: As the research being covered in these stories is important and serious, I regret that I was too flippant with my original headline, which indirectly may have implied that the hype was the fault of the researchers.

Someone sent me an interesting link to a story from the website for the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles: City of Hope Researchers May have Found Key to Cure Cancer and End Obesity. It sounds like a joke but readers took it seriously, as was clear from the comments:

“This article should be front page CNN, FOX, MSNBC – not the….(reference to Zimmerman case)” and “Truly an amazing discovery. It should be on every news front page and trials started immediately.”

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the work is all in mice. If CNN, FOX,...

I've gone two weeks, I think, without blasting somebody for hyping a medical story. That's progress! Or maybe it's just the summer slowdown, while writers and editors put the finishing touches on their hype for the...

I've gone two weeks, I think, without blasting somebody for hyping a medical story. That's progress! Or maybe it's just the summer slowdown, while writers and editors put the finishing touches on their hype for the fall.

In the midst of this drought, I was pleased to see a cancer story about a thrilling potential treatment that does not come across as hype. Indeed, it's a model of how to report excitement about a potential treatment without overstating the case.

The story, by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, appears in the June 28th issue of Science, under the headline "The Dizzying Journey To a New Cancer Arsenal." It begins with a tantalizing anecdote. Three men with leukemia, who had exhausted their other options, were treated by doctors at the University of...

[Disclosure: I was an instructor in May at the 2013 Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop run by George Johnson and Sandra Blakeslee.]

George Johnson, who writes for The New York Times, National Geographic, and others, is an unusually graceful...

[Disclosure: I was an instructor in May at the 2013 Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop run by George Johnson and Sandra Blakeslee.]

George Johnson, who writes for The New York Times, National Geographic, and others, is an unusually graceful writer, with a gift for dragging us right into a scene, no matter how we might protest. To see what I mean, take a look at the July/August issue of Discover, which includes an excerpt from Johnson's forthcoming book The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery.

Johnson has tracked down a controversial fossil jawbone that Louis Leakey once described as the oldest human fragment found in Africa and "the most ancient fragment of true Homo yet discovered anywhere in the...

You might think that the cancer they have in Canada is the same as the cancer we have in the U.S., but the news this week suggests otherwise.

The Canadian papers were full of news of a cancer "breakthrough" that attracted little or no attention in the United States. Apparently it applies only to...

You might think that the cancer they have in Canada is the same as the cancer we have in the U.S., but the news this week suggests otherwise.

The Canadian papers were full of news of a cancer "breakthrough" that attracted little or no attention in the United States. Apparently it applies only to Canadian cancer.

"Cancer breakthrough: New drug shown to prevent cancer growth ready for human testing," was the headline on a Toronto Star story by Kamila Hinkson. The Chronicle Herald of Halifax, Nova Scotia ran a Canadian Press story by Sheryl Ubelacker that said, "A team of Canadian and U.S. researchers has developed a new 'sharp-shooter'...

This morning's New York Times business section features what I'd call a style story entitled, "E-Cigarettes Are in Vogue and at a...

This morning's New York Times business section features what I'd call a style story entitled, "E-Cigarettes Are in Vogue and at a Crossroads," by Liz Alderman. It's a story about a new fashion, which might be more at home in the living section than in the business pages. But wherever it shows up, and whatever its approach, it owes readers a fair and full accounting of its subject, just as it would be obliged to tell us about the comfort and durability of a new line of jeans or men's suits.

The key questions about electronic cigarettes, in my view, are: Do they cut the increased risks of cancer, heart disease, and many other ailments associated with smoking? And do they help people quit?

What we learn from Alderman's story is that e-cigarettes are now...

Before you buy any real estate on Mars, you might want to consider some new measurements taken by the Curiosity rover on its way to over. Scientists long knew radiation can pose a serious health hazard to human space explorers, and these new results, published in last week’s...

Before you buy any real estate on Mars, you might want to consider some new measurements taken by the Curiosity rover on its way to over. Scientists long knew radiation can pose a serious health hazard to human space explorers, and these new results, published in last week’s Science, give us a better handle on potential exposures during the trips to and from the red planet.   

Kudos to those science writers who recognized the importance of the paper. The Curiosity mission has gathered mountains of data, but this finding stands out since it has big implications for the future of human space flight. Still, there were a couple of questions that went unanswered.

Most stories reported the estimate that a round trip would expose astronauts to 662 millisieversts. Many repeated this number as if it should mean something to the person on the street. Like we’re all now counting our millisieverts...

Toxicity is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Such things as fatigue, nausea, and pain are a serious concern for oncologists, who know that they can impede treatment and diminish quality of life.

Now, in a two-part essay published in the journal Oncology, doctors at Duke University argue that the...

Toxicity is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Such things as fatigue, nausea, and pain are a serious concern for oncologists, who know that they can impede treatment and diminish quality of life.

Now, in a two-part essay published in the journal Oncology, doctors at Duke University argue that the financial side effects of cancer treatment can be just as important in impeding treatment and diminishing quality of life. Cancer treatment's costs are rising,  the treatment is often being overused, and the rising costs are increasingly being passed on to patients, the doctors write.

I first caught wind of this essay, which appeared online Feb. 15 and April 15, this week when I ran across an April 25 story by Nick Mulcahy at Medscape, who was apparently one of the first to pick up on it--possibly the first. It's important story,...