Cancer

Study of the Mozart Effect?

Another review for HealthNewsReview.org. Again, I was the first reviewer.  

Could Listening to Mozart Help Doctors Spot Colon Polyps? October 31, 2011

RATING:

Another story based on a talk at a recent conference AND based on a news release. Although the article acknowledges the study's limitations with the usual disclaimer (“conclusions should be viewed as preliminary"), the story still raises many red flags.

Our Review Summary

  • Small study?  How small?
  • Study based on two doctors' performance?  How were they selected?  How much experience did they have?  These are very important details not explained in the story.
  • The article fails to mention anything about the study's confounding factors, or to caution that "correlation does not imply causation" in such a small study. An independent expert could have commented on these issues. But the story provided no independent perspective.
  • This is a one-source story, with the same quotations from the lead investigator as the news release.

Why This Matters:

The story again highlights the difficulty in covering presentations from academic conferences, as such studies are not yet peer-reviewed and published in medical journals. Although the correlation between Mozart and detection rates is interesting, the article could have gone beyond the press release and looked at the study from a more critical angle, with a more thorough explanation of the so-called "Mozart Effect." Although the news release was a bit of a challenge to decipher, the story based on it did not clearly explain its meaning for the reader.

Criteria:

  1. Establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure? - NOT APPLICABLE There's no question about the ability of anyone to listen to any of kind of music while doing colonoscopies.
  2. Discuss costs?- NOT APPLICABLE
    There are no extensive costs associated with listening to Mozart's music.
  3. Avoid "disease-mongering"? - SATISFACTORY The story provided some brief information on invasive colorectal cancer, based on the information in the news release.
  4. Evaluate the quality of evidence?- NOT SATISFACTORY
    The article does state that "data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal." However, the story should have discussed the limitations of such a small study and clarified the researchers' methods and results. The story does not mention if other variables were accounted for, or if the correlation between Mozart and higher detection rates could have been due to other factors. The study only had two physicians in it and was not truly blinded.
  5. Quantify the potential harms? - NOT APPLICABLE No foreseeable harms or side effects in listening to music during procedures.
  6. Establish the true novelty of the treatment/test/product/procedure? - SATISFACTORY
    Many studies, both positive and negative, have been conducted on the so-called "Mozart Effect." And the story makes brief reference to past studies.
  7. Quantify the potential benefits? - NOT SATISFACTORY The absolute dfference in adenomas was not reported, only percentages.  We're told it was a small study.  How small?
  8. Appear to rely solely or largely on a news release? - NOT SATISFACTORY The story clearly was based on a press release by the American College of Gastroenterology. Similar language and the same quotations were used. There was not any evidence of original reporting.
  9. Use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest? - NOT SATISFACTORY There were no independent sources cited from outside the study. The only comment came from the lead researcher, Dr. Catherine Noelle O'Shea from the University of Texas Health Science Center.
  10. Compare the new approach with existing alternatives? - NOT SATISFACTORY Was music the only option for improving detection?  Experience of the physician is probably closely related to detection rate, as well as number of procedures done per year. Let's give Mozart his due, but let's analyze the evidence on other alternative explanations as well.

 

Total Score: 2 of 7 Satisfactory [HealthNewsReview.org]

HealthNewsReview.org Rookie

Here's a medical story that I helped analyze for HealthNewsReview.org, where I just started as a reviewer. I was the first reviewer for this one.  

Can NSAIDs Cut Colorectal Cancer Deaths in Older Women? October 24, 2011

RATING:

Another rush-to-publish, straight-off-a-news-release, story about a talk at a scientific meeting. At least some caveats were included.

Our Review Summary

The HealthDay story covers a study presented at a recent conference and appropriately states that "conclusions should be viewed as preliminary." However, there were some problems with the article:

  • The story reports that women using NSAIDs, at the beginning of the study and also three years later, had a lower rate of death. However, it fails to touch upon another critical piece of the puzzle, in that duration of NSAID use was associated with lower colorectal cancer mortality rates. Specifically, the article neglected to mention that researchers observed "significant reductions in colorectal cancer mortality among women who reported at least 10 years of NSAID use."
  • The article fails to mention anything about dosage or any possible side effects associated with prolonged NSAID use.
  • This is a one-source story, with a doctoral student providing the only comment on the study. It is also obvious that there was no original reporting beyond the news release.

Why This Matters:

The story highlights the difficulty in covering presentations from academic conferences, especially since a peer-reviewed, published journal article is not yet available for background and reference. Although this was a short story, it could have been much more thorough with a short comment from the principal investigator and also from an independent source.

Criteria:

  1. Establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure? - NOT APPLICABLE Aspirin and ibuprofen are widely available in US pharmacies.
  2. Discuss costs?- NOT APPLICABLE
    The costs of over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen are not in question.
  3. Avoid "disease-mongering"? - SATISFACTORY There is no disease-mongering, but the story did not provide any context or epidemiology on colorectal cancer.
  4. Evaluate the quality of evidence?- SATISFACTORY
    While the article does caution that the study does not "prove a cause-and-effect," it should have expanded on that statement and explained the limitations of the study. The story does not mention if other variables were accounted for, or if the researchers found any other correlations in their study, which seems likely. However, it does point out that the study "data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal."
  5. Quantify the potential harms? - NOT SATISFACTORY There was no mention of potential harms of prolonged aspirin use, such as stomach bleeding and gastrointestinal ulcers.
  6. Establish the true novelty of the treatment/test/product/procedure?- NOT APPLICABLE
    Aspirin is not a new drug.
  7. Quantify the potential benefits? - NOT SATISFACTORY The only benefit mentioned in the story was the "roughly 30 percent lower rate of death from colorectal cancer," as stated in the press release, but 30 percent of what?
  8. Appear to rely solely or largely on a news release? - NOT SATISFACTORY The story clearly was based on a press release by the American Association for Cancer Research. Similar language and the same quotations were used. In fact, the press release was a bit more thorough than the actual HealthDay article. There was not any evidence of original reporting.
  9. Use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest? - NOT SATISFACTORY There were no independent sources cited from outside the study. The only comment came from a doctoral student at the University of Washington.
  10. Compare the new approach with existing alternatives? - NOT SATISFACTORY The story failed to detail any existing alternatives for colorectal cancer, such as targeted drug therapies for people with advanced colon cancer.

 

Total Score: 2 of 7 Satisfactory [HealthNewsReview.org]

Melanoma Vaccine Study Offers Hope

TAMPA - Florida scientists recently took part in a national clinical trial that could lead to the first-ever vaccine for people with advanced melanoma. The study found that the therapy could increase life expectancy for patients, who have the aggressive form of skin cancer. [audio:http://eunalhee.com/wp-content/uploads/Lhee_melanoma.mp3|titles=melanoma|artists=Lhee]

Patients who got the vaccine, combined with another immune-boosting drug, lived around six months longer, on average. The University of South Florida was the only place in the sunshine state that participated in the national trial.

Researcher Douglas Reintgen said this was the first study of its kind.

"This is the first vaccine study that is actually a positive study that showed a benefit," Reintgen said. "Likewise, there’s no vaccine approved to treat patients."

Reintgen said he would like to combine the vaccine with other drugs in a future clinical trial.

The findings from this study are published in this month’s New England Journal of Medicine. [HealthyState.org | FPR Spot]

Surgical Breast Biopsies Overused in Florida

GAINESVILLE – Too many Florida women are having invasive surgical breast biopsies, according to scientists at the University of Florida. They say needle biopsies would be less invasive, safer and cheaper. [audio:http://eunalhee.com/wp-content/uploads/Lhee_biopsies.mp3|titles=biopsies|artists=Lhee]

A needle biopsy involves a local anesthetic and does not require any recovery time.

For a surgical biopsy, patients often have general anesthesia. They are at a higher risk for infection and may leave the hospital with a scar.

UF researchers found 30 percent of breast biopsies in Florida were surgical. That’s three times more than what many scientists believe is appropriate.

Researcher Stephen Grobmyer said health care providers and patients need to be more aware of their options.

"People don’t realize that a needle biopsy can be just as effective in most cases as an open surgical biopsy as an initial step to determine whether something needs further evaluation or treatment," Grobmyer said.

The findings were published this month in the American Journal of Surgery. [HealthyState.org | FPR Spot]

New Biomarkers Could Detect Cancers Sooner

TALLAHASSEE - Researchers at Florida State University are working to find ways to detect breast and prostate cancers sooner. They hope to identify new “biomarkers” that could reduce the number of patients who die from these cancers. [audio:http://eunalhee.com/wp-content/uploads/Lhee_biomarkers.mp3|titles=biomarkers|artists=Lhee]

Biomarkers are substances that can act as signals for scientists. These molecules can indicate normal processes taking place in the body, like pregnancy, and also unusual ones, like cancer.

Florida State University researcher Amy Sang said she hopes to find new biomarkers that can lead to more effective treatments and early diagnoses for cancer patients.

"What would we like to achieve is, you know, life-threatening cancer to become a manageable disease," Sang said. "What that means is, we hope that the patient can survive."

Sang said she has identified some preliminary biomarkers for breast and prostate cancers, but it could take 10 to 20 years for the FDA to officially recognize them. [HealthyState.org | FPR Spot]

New Clinical Trial for Liver Cancer Patients

GAINESVILLE - A new clinical trial is underway in Florida for patients who suffer from advanced liver cancer and cirrhosis. University of Florida researchers are looking at whether the dosage of a chemotherapy drug could be adjusted for these patients, so they suffer fewer side effects. [audio:http://eunalhee.com/wp-content/uploads/Lhee_livercancer.mp3|titles=Sorafenib|artists=Lhee]

Doctors usually prescribe the pill Sorafenib to patients diagnosed with advanced liver cancer. It’s not a cure, but it allows them to live 3 to 4 months longer, on average, than untreated patients.

But researchers saw the recommended dosage was too high for many liver cancer patients, especially for those also with cirrhosis. These patients often suffer severe side effects from Sorafenib pills.

So, UF researcher Ron Cabrera thought of another strategy to deliver the drug.

"Perhaps by slowly introducing the number of pills, as opposed to starting the patient on full dose, we could actually improve the tolerance of the pill and lessen the severity of the side effects," Cabrera said.

The clinical trial is being carried out at multiple sites in Florida. It’s being funded by Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, Inc. - the makers of this chemotherapy drug. [HealthyState.org | FPR Spot]