Alex’s ‘near remission’ story serves as a reminder: Beware celebrity health news
| Mary Chris Jaklevic, June 5, 2019
| Health News Review – In People magazine’s latest cover story, Alex Trebek said his advanced pancreatic cancer is in “near remission.”
People portrayed this as a dramatic turnaround:
When Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer three months ago, fans were shocked.
But now the beloved Trebek has good news to share: He’s in “near remission,” according to doctors.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” the 78-year-old says, in PEOPLE’s new cover story.
Although the cancer has a 9 percent survival rate, Trebek has been responding very well to chemotherapy.
“The doctors said they hadn’t seen this kind of positive result in their memory…some of the tumors have already shrunk by more than 50 percent.”
What’s really mind-boggling is how news organizations across the country ran with this “good news” story without holding it up to scrutiny.
Instead of fact-checking, there was cheerleading.
The People editor who wrote the story called Trebek’s progress “miraculous.” ABC’s chief medical correspondent, Jennifer Ashton, MD, breathlessly declared his tumor shrinkage “a big win.”
Boston’s NPR station, WBUR, reported that Trebek’s story reflects “significant progress” in treating pancreatic cancer, while the Boston Herald quoted a doctor who said it “provides hope to others” who have pancreatic cancer.
Few news organizations asked what “near remission” might actually mean, or whether tumor shrinkage significantly improves a patient’s chances of survival.
Largely missing in the coverage were cautions that even complete remission does not equal cure, and tumor shrinkage does not always correlate with longer life.
“In my opinion it is far too early to get all gaga optimistic,” cautioned John James, a retired toxicologist and founder of Patient Safety America, who said tumor shrinkage is “a long way from a cure in pancreatic cancer.”
Celebrities can use their powerful platforms to educate and inspire, and Trebek has drawn praise for talking openly about the side effects of chemotherapy and his “surges of deep, deep sadness.” … Read more.
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