WARNING: Weak content, overgeneralizations may lead to misconceptions about cancer



When looking for quality information about medical or scientific breakthroughs, like most everything else in life, you have to sift through a lot of crap in order to find the good stuff. Unfortunately, for every good source on the internet about cancer like the American Cancer Society or WebMD, you have tons of sites and blogs with weak content or even misinformation.

Because physicians and scientists don’t often spend the time marketing their big ideas a la Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Edison, it’s often up to science writers, journalists, and bloggers to interpret their work and broadcast it for them. It is here where many roadblocks to good science communication can come up, including a lack of familiarity with a hyper-specialized vocabulary (be honest: do you recognize this?) or even a misintepretation of a data set’s significance (helpful hint for everyone who reports on medical breakthroughs in cancer research: correlation does not imply causation!)

Martin Fenner points out the difficulty of writing about cancer research science to a general audience in an interesting article entitled “Poor Media Coverage of Cancer Research: Are Blogs one Answer?” An excerpt:

For those of us working in cancer research, it is important to remember to communicate our research findings not only in journal articles and scientific meetings. We probably have to do a much better job in talking to the media and the public. One example would be to start a blog about a particular area of cancer research or cancer patient care. The number of quality blogs in this area could be much higher, and some blogs even had to close down.

I agree with Martin that there aren’t nearly enough high-quality news outlets for cancer research, and we’re not alone. This past year, one of the biggest powerhouses in scientific publications, the Nature Publishing Group, has made some pretty bold steps in making strong, evidence-based information about science easily accessible through their development of the Nature Network, an open-access social network and blogging platform geared directly to scientists and other professionals (including Martin).

In the spirit of promoting strong content in the world of cancer research, I’d like to point you to a few recent posts on some of my favorite blogs:

Immortal berry or not?

Joel Shurkin, one of my biggest inspirations in science writing, is about as skeptical as I am when it comes to the media-at-large reporting on new cancer breakthroughs, as he says here:

Everything causes cancer in rats; everything cures cancer in rats–That used to be the motto of this blog and maybe I’ll bring it back. As we have discussed, medical researchers only pretend to know anything about nutrition and part of the problem has to do with science writers.

In this post, he discusses recent trends and non-trends antioxidants and other nutriceuticals. Try to follow along, but not too closely or your head will start to hurt.

Overreacting to Alcohol’s Breast Cancer Risks

From the science blog at WIRED magazine, an interesting post that takes into consideration a vast pool of literature linking cancer and alcohol consumption:

Scientists have long suspected that drinking alcohol increases women’s breast cancer risks, and new research backs that up: in a study of 70,000 women, a drink a day increased their risk by 10 percent, and more than three daily drinks by 30 percent. (It didn’t matter what sort of alchol was consumed, either; that wine is less risky than beer is an oenophile legend.)Thirty percent is a big deal: Reuters points out that women have, on average, a 1 in 8 lifetime chance of developing breast cancer, so a 30 percent change ups that chance to 1 in 6. However, the 1 in 8 average masks a wide variability, with obesity, age and family history having a far greater impact than drinking.

Ixempra: New metastatic breast Cancer Treatment Approved by the FDA

Gloria at Cancer Commentary (who also happens to write Battling Arthritis) does a good job at explaining the basic mechanics of how newly-approved drugs work without the hype. Here, she discusses ixempra, a new chemotherapeutic targeting cancer metastasis.

Caspase 8 Story: Breast Cancer

If you already have a basic understanding of cell signalling pathways and you’re the kind of person who’s interested in the mechanics of how cancer works, then Cancer Genetics is right up your alley. Ramūnas Janavičius, a human geneticist with an interest in cancer, breaks down the freshest papers on clinical oncology for you. While you’re there, check out his list of ongoing clinical trials.

Am I missing your favorite cancer blog? Do you write a science blog that you’d like me to check out? Please let me know in the comments!

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Comments

  1. I’m right there with you, Laura. Too bad there are so many people out there willing to perpetuate false information!

  2. There is a risk of misinformation with health blogs. I think it’s always a good idea to get a second source and always, always, always check with your doctor.

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