Wednesday, December 2, 2009

how not to do journalism

We happened to be watching the local news on the ABC affiliate for northern Virginia, WJLA (we know it as Channel 7), when a report about a new drug treatment for glioblastoma appeared. We were fascinated, but one very, very important piece of information was left out of the report. I kept hoping the reporters would divulge it, but this never happened.

Thinking we would be clever, we checked out the WJLA website to find the printed form of the report we had watched. The report, in its entirety, appears below. I challenge you to figure out what's missing.

On Your Side: Brain Cancer Vaccine
posted 12/02/09 5:45 pm

NEW YORK - Every year, 10,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the most aggressive and most common form of brain cancer. Even after surgery, radiation and chemo, doctors say the tumor returns in 95 percent of cases. Researchers are testing out a new vaccine that aims to stop the cancer from coming back.

Peter Rauch was just about to celebrate his 70th birthday when he got the news: brain cancer.

"I thought maybe I was getting dementia or something like that," Rauch said. "I just didn't feel quite right."

He had a crainiotomy [sic], where surgeons remove part of the skull and cut out the cancer. The operation went well, but doctors are always concerned the tumors will come back.

"They infiltrate into the brain, and we can take out the majority of them, but there are microscopic cells that go into the brain that are very, very hard to treat," Ted Schwartz, M.D., a neurosurgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, told Ivanhoe.

Rauch is testing out a new vaccine. It works by training his immune system to target and kill cancer cells.

"With new treatments like tumor vaccines, we can actually 'rev-up' the body's own immune system to target and treat those tumors," Dr. Schwartz explained.

In phase II trials, patients who got the vaccine were free of cancer for about 16 and a half months and survived nearly three years. Those who didn't get the shot saw their cancer progress six months later. They survived a little over a year.

"We've been doing this for many years," Dr. Schwartz said. "It helps to stave off disease, but is not a cure. Now, we have a treatment that potentially can increase the number of long-term survivors."

"I don't think I'm back to where I was before the surgery, but I'm getting closer," Rauch said.

So far, he's feeling good, and grateful for every day his cancer stays away.

Patients in the trial receive monthly injections for as long as the tumor has not returned. To be eligible for the vaccine trial, patients must be over 18, have a newly diagnosed brain tumor and have recently had surgery to remove it.

(Ivanhoe Newswire)

Shouldn't have been too hard to figure out. How could something so obvious be missing? How the hell are we, as Mom's caregivers, supposed to research the topic without this rather crucial piece of information? Wake up, WJLA!



Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I didn't find the name of the vaccine in the article.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

Kevin Kim said...

Exactly. How could they leave out the most obvious piece of data? If you're a family that wants to research the treatment, you're not given much to go on. "Brain Cancer Vaccine"? How generic can you get?

Charles said...

I did a bit of rooting around on the interwebs and discovered that the name of the vaccine is CDX-110. I found a page with details on the clinical trial mentioned:

Unfortunately, the page lists the trial as "ongoing, but not recruiting participants." Other reports and pages that I found said that, if the trial is successful, the treatment could be available to more patients in "a couple of years."

Still, it's something to look into.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks for doing that, Charles. You've just saved me some research. Strangely, the information seems to contradict the information from the WJLA spot, which implies that the docs are still recruiting patients who are "over 18, have a newly diagnosed brain tumor and have recently had surgery to remove it." I need to look into how they're defining "newly diagnosed" and "recently had surgery." If "newly" and "recently" mean "within the past eight months," then Mom might be eligible.

Anyway, I agree: it's something to look into. We're always exploring options, and I suspect there's a good chance that Mom won't be eligible for the intra-arterial Avastin experiments we're currently looking at.

Kevin Kim said...


Upon review of the eligibility criteria, it looks as though Mom fails. One criterion says:

"Gross total resection followed by conventional chemoradiation therapy without progression of disease."

Those last four words means that Mom is ineligible. Glioblastoma is already a vicious, aggressive cancer, but even by GBM's standards, Mom's tumors are aggressive.

Also, I see that one of the exclusion criteria is:

"Systemic corticosteroid therapy > 2 mg of dexamethasone or equivalent (as defined by the investigator) per day at study enrollment."

Mom's Decadron dosage definitely exceeds 2mg/day: she gets 4mg/day.

Charles said...

That is frustrating. Keep us posted on any developments in this area (as I'm sure you will).