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Beware of Miracle Drugs

Posted 11/19/2015

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  Sometimes I think that media reports about cancer miracle drugs are almost criminal. Hopes and expectations are raised so high by these stories--and, inevitably, they are very overblown and maybe even inaccurate. Yes, of course, progress is being made, but it is measured in moments and inches and not in giant leaps forward. Are they exceptions? Of course. Drugs like Gleevac and Herceptin have transformed treatment of certain cancers, but nothing is a miracle cure. Nothing.

  It is important to read or listen to any news reports with a big dose of skepticism--and then to talk with your doctor if you think that the news may be relevant to your own situation. Remember the old adage: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't.  Here is a good story from NPR:

If A New Cancer Drug Is Hailed As A Breakthrough,
Odds Are It's Not

Miracle. Game changer. Marvel. Cure. Lifesaver.
For Dr. Vinay Prasad, each one of these words was a little straw on the camel's back. At
oncology conferences, they were used "indiscriminately" to describe new cancer drugs.
Journalists bandied them about in stories.
Finally, the pile of hyperbole broke the camel's back.
The hype can bubble up false optimism in patients struggling with cancer, Prasad, an
oncologist at Oregon Health and Sciences University, writes Thursday in the journal
JAMA Oncology.
Searching the Web for recent news articles about cancer treatments, Prasad found that
half of the drugs dubbed with superlatives hadn't been approved by the Food and Drug
Administration as safe and effective. Of particular concern, 14 percent were praised
without ever having been given to a human being.

"I find that egregious," says Prasad, "Like if a news story did an article about a guy who
won the lottery, asking him what he's going to do with the money, when he actually
just bought a lottery ticket."
The hype can make oncologists feel like dream dashers.


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