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Headline Hype: BRCA and Risk of Dying from Cancer

January 13, 2018

by Piri Welcsh, PhD

An article published yesterday in Newsweek with the incredibly misleading title “A Gene That ‘Causes Cancer’ Probably Doesn’t Increase Your Chances of Dying from Cancer” created quite a social media stir.  This media story, and the research that it reports on, will be the subject of a future XRAYS article. We developed XRAYS to help our constituents look beyond the hype, to understand media reports on breast cancer research. Since each of our XRAYS articles take several weeks to research, write, score, summarize, edit and undergo Advisory Board review before it is published, and our publication calendar for the next month is packed with prior studies, we wanted to respond rapidly to the most alarming aspects of this headline.

The Newsweek article refers to new research published yesterday in Lancet Oncology. The researchers studied young women with breast cancer, comparing those who had a BRCA mutation to those who did not, to see if mutation status affected survival. The results of this new research suggest that there is not significant difference in overall survival between these two groups. In other words, in people already diagnosed with breast cancer, having a BRCA mutation did not change prognosis.

This is a very different conclusion than the one suggested by the headlines. In the case of prostate cancer, for example, studies have shown that among men with prostate cancer, those with a BRCA mutation (and possibly other mutations) are more likely to develop aggressive disease than prostate cancer survivors without a mutation.

Further, without any intervention, people with BRCA mutations are at higher risk of dying from aggressive cancers like ovarian cancer than people in the general population.

This is the first of a new FORCE blog series “Headline Hype,” which will be linked to our XRAYS Program. XRAYS provides weekly summaries of research articles on breast cancer covered by the media. One of our goals with XRAYS is to help people become discerning consumers of health media.

We will cover this topic and article in more depth in a future XRAYS. Stay tuned.

3 Comments

  1. Marilyn Welcsh says:

    Thanks daughter. Good article.
    Mom

  2. Frank Poynter says:

    Thank you for helping to keep the media honest in their health care reporting.

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