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FOX, Banner MD Anderson hype Cuba cancer “breakthrough”

FOX, Banner MD Anderson hype Cuba cancer “breakthrough”

Evaluating the quality of evidence, care journalism TAGSCimavax,
health news hype, MD Anderson Cancer Center
Some think finding the cure for cancer is like taking a rocket ship to
the moon.

Others say the next huge breakthrough is waiting for us a mere 90 miles
off the shores of Key West.

This story from a Fox News affiliate in Phoenix makes some breathtaking
claims about a Cuban lung cancer vaccine that it says “could soon offer
new hope for people battling the deadly disease in the United States.”

“could literally save millions of live” (sic)
“has been shown to significantly increase life expectancy”
“It’s cheap and it seems to be effective for a lot of patients”
“could be coming to the United States in a few years”
What evidence does the story provide to back up any of these sweeping


The closest the story gets to evidence are the comments of a Banner MD
Anderson oncologist, Dr. Santosh Rao, who apparently has seen studies on
the vaccine and proclaims himself “very excited” about the treatment. He

Most of the studies have shown that it does something, and that it
extends life. The question will always come up, is it better than some
of the new therapies that we have that also help the immune system
function better.
His employer, Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center near Phoenix, was also
very excited about the story and didn’t hesitate to promote the coverage
on social media. The center’s Facebook post uncritically repeats the
hype that’s at the core of the Fox story and adds that the vaccine is
“potentially groundbreaking.”

Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center
on Thursday
Dr. Santosh Rao, medical oncologist, was featured on FOX 10 Phoenix in a
story about a new, potentially groundbreaking, lung cancer drug recently
announced in Cuba. The lung cancer vaccine, Cimavax, has been shown to
significantly increase life expectancy in lung cancer patients in that
country and could soon offer new hope for people battling the deadly
disease in the United States. Check out the story:

Cuba announces breakthrough cancer drug
It’s a medical breakthrough that could literally save millions of live,
and it could be coming to the United States in a few years.

I’m as excited as Dr. Rao about the prospect of an effective new cancer
treatment coming to the United States from Cuba. Who wouldn’t be? But
the Fox story that quoted him had a responsibility to back up its wildly
optimistic claims with evidence. And it failed miserably on that score.

If Dr. Rao has seen the studies, they’re presumably not locked away in a
cell in Guantanamo. Indeed, it took one of our contributors,
breast cancer patient advocate Christine Norton, just a few clicks to
find out more about the vaccine and its thus far limited supporting
research. For example, a 2015 Wired story — which seems to feature the
most recent clinical data on the vaccine — reported that “A Phase II
trial from 2008 showed lung cancer patients who received the vaccine
lived an average of four to six months longer than those who didn’t.”

Norton wonders: “How does possibly extending life for 4-6 months in
people younger than 60 lead Fox News to say this drug could ‘literally
save millions of lives’?

MD Anderson admittedly may not have any control over the sensational Fox
coverage that Dr. Rao contributed to. But it certainly should have put
the brakes on when it shared the coverage via its own social media
channels. Instead of educating and informing its community — many
members of which will no doubt grasp at any straw of hope against this
aggressive form of cancer — the treatment center inexplicably ran with
and even pumped up the hype surrounding the vaccine.

“It’s one thing for a news organization to air this but quite another
level of irresponsibility for Banner MD Anderson to have one of its
oncologists tout the drug on air,” according to Norton. “What was the
purpose of the story? Was it simply to generate traffic to Banner MD
Anderson’s website & Facebook page? The drug has not been in clinical
trials in the United States. A quick Google search showed that Roswell
Park Institute in Buffalo, NY, has applied to do a clinical trial on
CIMAVax. If approved, the trial will probably not begin until 2017 at
the earliest. The trial itself will take years.”

I also asked one of our Phoenix-based contributors, Dr. Doug
Campos-Outcalt, for his reaction to this story being aired in his own
backyard, and he was as baffled as Norton by the coverage.

“Why MD Anderson would hype this alleged breakthrough before it has
undergone controlled clinical trials is beyond my understanding,” said
Campos-Outcalt. “The most effective preventative for lung cancer is
smoking cessation and prevention. That of course does not make money for
cancer treatment centers.”

Update 3/7/16: Steven Miles, MD, Professor of Medicine and Bioethics at
the of Minnesota, described the situation to me as a…

despicable use of social media…to entirely bypass the scientific
literature and sell miracles. Anderson offers no data, no peer review,
no discussion of what ‘significant’ benefit means, no information on who
the drug has been tested on, no description of side effects. Perhaps
all of this information exists but medical science requires that the
data becomes available before the barkers shill the product.

In addition, Cuba–a nation with skilled clinicians–has stated its intent
to commercialize this product. And yet, it is a nation that limits
dissent to national priorities, does not have a free press or free
elections all of which are needed to ensure the accuracy, accountability
and transparency for government pronouncements of this nature.
Thanks to Mike Thompson, MD, PhD — @mtmdphd on Twitter — for pointing us
to this story.

Source: FOX, Banner MD Anderson hype Cuba cancer “breakthrough” – –

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