KSJ Tracker September 26, 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


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