Breast cancer

10 January 2013

Breast cancer studies often downplay side effects

Abstracts of breast cancer papers published in top journals may not be providing the most accurate information, according to a new analysis.

0

Abstracts of breast cancer papers published in top journals may not be providing the most accurate information, according to a new analysis.

"Investigators want to go overboard to make their studies look positive," said Dr Ian Tannock, the senior author of the new study released online today in Annals of Oncology.

In two-thirds of the 164 studies Dr Tannock and his colleagues scrutinised, that meant not listing serious side effects of treatment in the paper's abstract.

That's important, said Dr Tannock, of Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, because "most of us are so damn busy, we only read the abstract and skim the tables and figures."

In fact, a fifth of studies didn't include toxicities in tables in the results section, and about a third failed to mention them in either the abstract or the discussion section.

Most surprising, said Dr Tannock, was that in a third of studies, if the treatment didn't work as well as one might hope, researchers moved the goalposts, reporting results that weren't what the study was originally designed to test.

Cancer research is not the only area where some researchers are concerned. In November, a group of cardiology journal editors urged authors to watch their language when describing their results. And two paediatric researchers warned of "spin and boasting" in their field's journals.

Pressure on researchers

Researchers "gain more influence with positive studies," said Dr Tannock, whose team analysed reports of phase III trials - the kind used by the US Food and Drug Administration to decide whether to approve drugs.

There are various pressures on researchers to make their results "look better than they really are," Dr Tannock said. However, in the new study, who paid for a study didn't have any relationship with how the results were presented.

Scientists may also spin their results to increase their chances of publishing in the top journals surveyed by the new study. Such marquee publications can improve the chances for tenure, promotion and grants.

One of the journals whose studies Dr Tannock and his colleagues looked at, the New England Journal of Medicine, declined to comment, saying they don't typically comment on other studies. Another, the Journal of Clinical Oncology was not able to respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Journals can help, Dr Tannock said, by insisting that authors include toxicities in abstracts. "Even in 250 words, everybody can get that in there," he said.

Still, he said, oncologists - the intended audience for these papers - "have to be educated to be critical of what they're reading."

(Reuters Health, January 2013)

Read More:

Smallpox virus could help fight breast cancer

Men can get breast cancer too

 

Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Ask the Expert

Honey Morgan

Honey is a Life Coach, NLP Practitioner, Energy ReSourcing™ & Ericksonian Hypnotherapy Practitioner who has been practicing for over a decade. Personally, Honey is actively involved in the BDSM community and takes the role of a submissive or slave. She also spent 7 years as an exotic dancer. Her specialised coaching focus on sex & relationships, as well as spiritual journeys, is the result of a burning passion to help women (and men!) have fulfilling long-term relationships & healthy sex lives. She is also dedicated to helping couples and individuals find the bond, connection & love we all so desperately yearn for in our souls. Honey is one of the founders and creators behind www.sexandhoney.com and www.my-coach-online.com, two innovative online coaching platforms designed to put real coaching resources into the hands of people who need them most… at a fraction of the cost of traditional coaching and counseling.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules