Misleading Breast Cancer Headlines

Beth Brophy Health Guide
  • Last month, at a party, a social acquaintance who knows my history with breast cancer, told me how happy she was that I didn’t have to worry about the disease anymore.

    “What are you talking about?” I asked politely.

    She replied that while at the hair dresser recently she had read a woman’s magazine that said breast cancer was as good as cured.

    I told her that while I would like that to be true, as far as I knew, it wasn’t. And I attributed her misunderstanding to not really paying attention to what she was reading while having her hair styled and colored.

    Then this week, I read a column in U.S. News and World Report titled “Closing in On a Cure” for breast cancer. Now I hate to bite the hand that fed me for 12 years (when I was a senior editor at U.S. News), but the column by former NIH chief Bernadine Healy falls pretty short of the headline.
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    The column heralds two advances in breast cancer. Don’t get me wrong, they are advances. But advances are not a cure. The first is a drug called Tykerb (link to something on our site that explains it), which helps women with the HER2/neu gene, and seems to stem brain metastases. And it gives the sickest patients four extra months before dying. It sounds like a great drug. However, 70 percent of women with breast cancer don’t have the HER2/neu gene. And four extra months before dying is far short of a cure, at least in my book.

    The second advance Healy mentions are discoveries that target tumor-initiating stem cells, which could someday stop metastatic breast cancer’s spread. When used with drugs like Tykerb, and Herceptin, metastatic breast cancer could, someday, be controlled, and maybe even cured.

    I hope that someday is soon. But in the meantime, I wish headline writers would stop hyping, and not call every new, promising advance “closing in on a cure.”

    Share your thoughts about breast cancer research hype in the message boards.
Published On: October 20, 2006