Yesterday, the American Society for Clinical Oncology released somewhere around 5,000 abstracts to be featured at their annual confab, which kicks off June 1 in Chicago. That’s a treasure trove of research, but it’s almost too dense for any single human being to get their head around. (Though David Sampson of the American Cancer Society is doing a masterful job. If you’re not reading his tweets, you should be.)
Initial coverage has focused almost exclusively on medications made by company’s whose share price might be affected by the news, leaving literally hundreds of pieces of research unexamined. It’s possible that some of it will receive attention over the next two weeks or during the meeting itself, but the odds are many won’t get examined by anyone outside of the research community.
As part of a humble effort to keep at least a handful of interesting pieces of research from being overlooked, here are my top four ASCO abstracts — mostly focusing on communication — that hasn’t received the attention they deserve:
How do we get a screening message across?
A French survey of 1,600 subjects found that the biggest sources of information about cancer screening were radio and television (61 percent), followed by general practitioners (52 percent). The Internet came in at 18 percent, though — no surprise — those under 50 were more likely to get their info online. But trust — on a scale of 1 to 10 — was low for traditional media, which scored a 5.7, and even lower for the Internet (4.6). Topping the list, trust-wise? Docs, with a score of 8.2. What does that mean for communicators? Even in this always-on era, it makes sense to take to the air. [Cancer screening: Source of information and level of trust.]
Do patients really understand the health information they’re provided?
Loyola researchers took a look at 62 websites about prostate cancer, which accounted for 95 percent of all searches for common prostate cancer-related search terms. They found the language on the websites was universally complex. The average site was written at an 11th grade reading level. A grand total of 3 sites — 4.8 percent — were written below a high school reading level. It’s well worth the effort for communicators to consider running patient ed materials through readability instruments to make sure information is going over the heads of the intended audience. [Readability of websites containing information about prostate cancer treatment options.]
How do patients figure out how long they will live?
Cancer prognosis estimates very wildly between oncologists and patients. About half of all patients are more optimistic than their doctors (the other half have similar views). But what’s interesting is where patients get their information: 44 percent say they get it from their docs, 18 percent say they get it from “themselves,” 6 percent say their estimates are based on “hope.” Also noteworthy: though only 8 percent of patients base their prognosis on the Internet, 86 percent went online for information about their cancers. [Comparing prognosis estimates of patients with cancer and their oncologists.]
Is knowledge power? Maybe not.
One of the great studies that Sampson flagged was research out of Virginia Commonwealth University that found that the more a women knew about breast cancer, the more likely she was to overestimate her risk of the disease. On average, women believed their risk of breast cancer to be 24 percent higher than it actually is. This raises an interesting paradox (and a challenge for communicators): the three decades of intense education on breast cancer has had an impact, but risk remains a concept that hasn’t been adequately emphasized. [Risk perception and knowledge of breast and colon cancers in a diverse population.]