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prostate 'magic drug', the case of the changing headline

Carl Heneghan
Last edited 12th October 2010

Earlier today the headline from the BBC read – Prostate trial drug like 'magic'. This headline concerened me for a number of reasons, as false hopes are raised by what I consider poor practice. The study was presented at this week's meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology in Milan, Italy.

Funded by Johnson & Johnson it reports patients with advnaced prostate cancer survived on average four months longer, some did even better: I assume some did worse than this. But for those interested in the results there is no way of verifying the methods or the data. Unless someone can point me in the direction of the paper.

The following quote says it all: ‘This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process.

It hasn’t been peer reviewed, yet its making the major news. There could be major flaws in this study, which may invalidate the results. Unfortunately I can’t tell you, as I haven’t yet learnt how to do critical appraisal without the paper, whether published or unpublished.

By late afternoon the BBC had downgraded the headline to Trial confirms prostate drug promise. I'd have gone for 'prostate trial confirms conference proceedings lack of peer review

This is a worrrying trend in medicine and it’s about time something was done – important results should be released with the publication.

Oh, by the way the drug hasn’t even got a European license yet. What's magic about that.

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