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Monday 10 October 2016

New Wonder Drug for Cancer (or is it really that good?)

There is a new miracle drug treatment for cancer! This is wonderful news. Medical science is winning its battle against this dreadful disease. And we can believe this good news because it has been proven by randomised controlled trials (RCTs) which are considered to be the 'gold standard' of proof of the efficacy of pharmaceutical drugs according to many, including the industry itself, and supporters of the industry like 'Sense about Science'.

Of course the mainstream media are ecstatic with the news, and over the weekend they have heralded the new wonder drug with great acclaim. BBC News said that:

               "An immunotherapy drug has been described as a potential "game-changer." 

The Guardian said:

               "An immunotherapy drug hailed as a potential gamechanger in the treatment of cancer could soon offer new hope to patients with currently untreatable forms of the disease."

The Mail Online headline stated:

               "New drug hailed a 'game changer' for cancer patients."

So the drug is clearly a 'game changer'! Strange that all three media organisations used the same description! Well, perhaps not. Other parts of the media used the same phrase too. And indeed they all appeared to be using the same 'facts' and 'statistics'.

A coincidence perhaps? Or, more likely, was this our mainstream media doing what they always do - receive a press release from the conventional medical establishment highlight its new 'game-changing' breakthroughs - and slavishly and uncritically re-writing it?

I can suggest that it is likely to be the latter, not least because the same news, the same headlines, all with identical information, published by the same media organisations, landed on our breakfast tables on 1st June 2015.

               "Cancer drug combination 'shrinks 60% of melanomas." (BBC News).

               "Cancer trial of drug combination yields 'spectacular' results." (The Guardian).

               "New era in the war on cancer: Revolutionary treatment that will save thousands hailed as 'biggest breakthrough since chemotherapy." (Daily Mail).

And I must offer an apology to the BBC, Guardian and Mail, as every other mainstream media outlet in Britain carried the same news, with the same information, on the same days. They are not alone in their slavish and uncritical adherence, both in the heralding of these 'good news' stories like this, and the censorship of 'bad news' stories about the ongoing failures of the conventional medical health system.

Private news organisations are, of course, heavily funded by the pharmaceutical industry, and perhaps this is the price we, as patients, have to pay for their ongoing advertising largesse. And the directors and board members of international news organisations and the international pharmaceutical companies share the same similarity with the published news stories on health.

So the general public is informed about health, and this is what it knows.

  • Pharmaceutical drugs are winning the battle against cancer.
  • Medical science has once again stumbled on a new wonder drug.
  • Help for Cancer sufferers is imminently available.

So the new drug is a potential 'game changer' because "more patients taking nivolumab survived for longer compared with those who were treated with chemotherapy", "combining nivolumab with another drug shrank tumours in advanced kidney cancer patients", the immunotherapy drug "works by harnessing the immune system to destroy cancer cells", and that "patients also experienced fewer side effects from immunotherapy" . Moreover, "patients survived an average of 9.1 months with nivolumab and 4.4 months with chemotherapy", that "this group of patients, with advanced or treatment-resistant tumours, are expected to live less than six months", and that "of these patients, one in 10 had no sign of cancer remaining".

And so the good news continues. We might ask, and indeed many people bombarded with this information probably did, what more can we ask for?

Well, perhaps we could ask for a history lesson. After all, this is not the first 'wonder drug', the first 'miracle cure', the first 'game changer', the first medical breakthrough we have been told about during the last 100 years. Think about Valium, Prozac, Viagra, Statins, and many, many more - all heralded in much the same way - a miraculous cure, with no side effects. Most of them have turned out to be addictive, or ineffective, or dangerous. Many had been heavily restricted, withdrawn or even banned for these reasons.

I have blogged before on the typical life-history of pharmaceutical drugs, passing from birth, through childhood, adulthood, old age, and then death! Here, apparently, is the birth of yet another one!

The media coverage then parades numerous leading conventional medical experts, figures from patient support groups, and from medical charities, et al., all emphasising what a breakthrough this pharmaceutical drug is. These are predictable, 'off-the-shelf' articles, formulaic to the extreme. And down at the very bottom are some initial warnings.

Well, in this particular 'good news' story, ever these initial warnings seem to be absent. So, too, is any indication of the cost of this new ground-breaking treatment. Perhaps it was not included in the pharmaceutical companies news release, and perhaps, in their hurry to tell us, journalists completely forgot to investigate. So let's be clear, we are, apparently, talking about an annual cost for each individual of tens of thousands of pounds!

The mainstream media were also predictably unhelpful about the known side effects of Nivolumab. These are outlined in the website, which took me about 30 seconds to research! There, we are warned to seek medical attention, right away, if any of these SEVERE side effects occur:

               "Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); chest pain; severe muscle weakness; severe or persistent muscle or joint pain; swelling of the hands, ankles, or feet; symptoms of electrolyte problems (eg, confusion; irregular heartbeat; mental or mood changes; seizures; severe or persistent diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting; severe muscle pain or weakness); symptoms of kidney problems (eg, unable to pass urine, change in the amount of urine passed, blood in the urine, a big weight gain, swelling in your ankles); symptoms of liver problems (eg, dark urine, pale stools, persistent loss of appetite, right-sided stomach pain, severe nausea or vomiting, unusual bruising or bleeding, unusual tiredness, yellowing of the skin or eyes); symptoms of thyroid or pituitary gland problems (eg, constipation, decreased sex drive, deeper voice, dizziness, fainting, feeling cold, hair loss, mood or behavior changes, severe or persistent headache, severe tiredness, weight changes); unusual bruising or bleeding; unusual tiredness or weakness; vision changes."

Reading this makes me think that the 'good news' is more about the reputation of the conventional medical profession, and the profits of the pharmaceutical industry. It makes me wonder when the mainstream media will bother to tell about this important information about this drug, currently in its childhood; will in be in its adulthood, its old age, or after its death. I wonder whether doctors, when they are prescribing these 'game changing' drugs, will ever bother to tell their patients. Most of all I wonder how many people are raising their hopes about this new drug, and how many patients will suffer the consequences of Nivolumab?

I also wonder when we are all going to be told by our doctors that one of the biggest causes of cancer is pharmaceutical drugs?

And I wonder when the mainstream media will wise up to the fact that the conventional medical establishment always over-hypes the benefits of its drugs, and under-report their known serious, and often life threatening side effects ?