Reading Medical Abstracts
Many of us are interested in researching and reading all that we can about our cancers, available treatments, and new research. Since you are reading this blog, you are at least somewhat interested in learning more than your doctor has already told you. It can be tricky to read medical reports and you may feel that you need a basic primer in how to read and understand abstracts and studies. I was delighted to learn about this guide that ASCO has just released on their Cancer Net website. Here is a quote from "How to Read a Medical Abstract in a Research Study":
An abstract is a summary of a research study that allows readers to quickly learn about the important aspects of a study. In medical journals, an abstract is usually presented at the beginning of the published article. Abstracts are also a main vehicle of communication at scientific meetings. Although the intended audiences for most abstracts are medical and scientific professionals, it is becoming more common for patients and their friends and family members to read abstracts while learning about cancer and researching treatment options. Unlike most journal articles, abstracts are easier to search online and can usually be accessed free of charge.
An abstract often includes the following sections:
- Purpose or Objective, which explains why the study was done
- Methods, which describes the following:
- The type of study that was done, such as a phase II clinical trial
- The type and stage of the study participants' cancer, such as stage I lung cancer
- Other characteristics of the study participants, such as age and gender
- How much and how often the treatment was given (if a treatment was being tested)
- What outcome was measured, such as survival, tumor shrinkage, treatment side effects, or quality of life as a way to meet the objectives of the study
- If not a treatment study, outcome measures could include number of new cancer cases or number of patients who experienced a specific side effect from a treatment.
- Results, which summarizes the data that was collected from each participant focusing on the most important findings of the study
- Conclusions, which describes what the results mean in relation to the purpose of the study (for example, were the objectives met) and also places them in the larger context of cancer knowledge
If, after reading a study, you are confused or more anxious, please talk with your doctor.
Click here to read this whole useful guide.