An interesting profile of how a distinctly speculative hypothesis gained momentum is in today’s Globe by writer — presumably a freelancer — Catherine Elton. She tells of a local cancer researcher chasing the idea. In her story Elton calls it a theory. The Tracker being persnickety thinks this has not gotten past the hypothesis stage. It is that mortality among black women may be higher because breast cancer tends to show up earlier in that population, and that pre-menopause surgery itself may trigger metastasis and hence ultimately worse results.
The unusual angle is that the physician uses as evidence two essentially anecdotal letters on the topic, published in the International Journal of Surgery. They relate belief among many African or African-American women that surgery itself triggers additional cancer. Could be. But the story does present a challenge to responsible news coverage: how to relate this puzzle without fanning a possibly baseless wariness about early screening and treatment?