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“Cure for most cancers” story is overplayed and misleading

by Kat Arney | Analysis

26 January 2011

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A man reading a newspaper

Claims of a "cure for most cancers" are over-hyped

Anyone looking at the Daily Express front page yesterday could be forgiven for thinking that a “cure for most cancers” was around the corner, according to the headline. In fact, the story is about very early laboratory research, which shows promise but is a long way from yielding anything that could be given to patients.

The NHS Choices blog has already done a great job of dissecting the scientific truth of the tale from the dramatic headlines, explaining that the story is actually about the discovery of a gene involved in a complex molecular pathway leading to cancer spread.

Over recent decades researchers all over the world have discovered genes that drive the growth and spread of cancer, and this research adds one more to this ever-growing list. But, while these new results aid our understanding of the complexities of cancer and could point towards potential leads for future anti-cancer drugs, the work is still at the laboratory stage.

As we’ve said several times before in response to hyped-up cancer stories in the media, misleading reporting of early-days lab research raises false hopes for patients and their families. Ultimately this leads to a loss of confidence in the genuine progress our researchers – and others around the world – are making.

And according to the head of our Cancer Information Nurses, when stories like this hit the headlines, our nurses have to field calls from distressed cancer patients or their carers asking when they’ll be able to get hold of the ‘wonder drug’ du jour.

Because of the unpredictable and experimental nature of research, it’s almost impossible to guess when (or even if) a lab discovery will translate into a beneficial treatment for patients – especially as scientists all around the world are discovering new cancer-related genes every month.

Paul Nurse and Tim Hunt made their Nobel prize-winning discoveries about cell division back in the early 1980s. We’re only now starting to see drugs based on their findings coming through into early clinical trials.

Unfortunately, “Scientific discovery increases our knowledge of cancer – we hope it might be beneficial in the future in some way” doesn’t make such a great headline.


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