Miracle Drugs and Patient Expectations

October 30, 2015
Julie Longlet, ASCO staff

In a JAMA Oncology article from yesterday entitled “The Use of Superlatives in Cancer Research,” researchers found that media reports about new drugs often consist of more hype than medical context. This hype, in turn, causes anxiety and confusion among people with cancer and their friends and families.

From June 21, 2015, to June 25, 2015, researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland performed Google news searches for 10 superlative terms used in conjunction with the phrase, “cancer drug.” Superlative words included “breakthrough,” “miracle,” “cure,” and “home run”. In the 94 news articles fitting this description, there were 97 superlatives used. Half of the superlative words were used to describe drugs that had not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Over half the references (55%) were made by journalists.

Lidia Schapira, MD, FASCO, Cancer.Net Editor in Chief, commented about using these words to describe new cancer drugs has real consequences for patients. “Our patients are the ones most harmed by this,” she said. “I was recently with a patient with advanced cancer who was tired of hearing of all these medical successes on the news because she felt she wasn’t benefitting from it. We talked for a while about how what she was hearing was hype, and not true progress in cancer research.”

This study reinforces that patients need to communicate with their doctor and cancer care team about treatment options. All drugs have side effects that may not be described in news articles. Or, they may be only studied in a specific subgroup of patients.

What do you think? Have you been affected by the hype surrounding new cancer drugs? Please leave us a comment below.

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