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Trisha Torrey

Unholy Alliance Skews Lung Cancer Research Results

By April 7, 2008

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In late 2006, a report on a study about early CT scans, lung cancer and survival rates was published by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM.) Cornell University researchers concluded that when patients receive CT scans annually, then lung cancer can be detected earlier and they may live longer.

Other experts cried foul at the results. They claimed that the study didn't really lead to that conclusion; that, in fact, the real conclusion was only that the cancer was caught earlier. Patients didn't really live any longer. They determined that the evidence had been misinterpreted because patients died in 10 years (average) of the onset of the cancer whether or not their lung cancer was detected earlier.

Fifteen months after the study was published, the NEJM has finally looked behind its own headlines and exposed one possible reason the researchers might have presented skewed results. It turns out that the research was done through a grant underwritten partially by GE, the manufacturer of CT scanners, plus Vector Group, a holding company for tobacco companies.

Do you smell a skunk?

Now the NEJM is being called on the carpet for failure to look behind its own headlines. While they say they require all researchers to disclose sources of research funding, the publication's editors are now taking a hit for not looking behind those disclosures. In this case, the Cornell researchers stated their funding came from a small not-for-profit organization. They did not disclose that the non-profit was funded by GE and Vector.

Like so many other aspects of today's American healthcare, this is one more example of a coverup that will harms patients. If you develop lung cancer and your prognosis is that you will live for ten years, that won't likely change, whether you know about it during year one, or you don't find out until year eight. All the CT scans in the world may not change that -- but -- the expense to you, both in dollars and peace-of-mind, will be huge.

That doesn't even address the fact that this kind of research, publishing skewed results, becomes the basis for future research -- meaning -- researchers spend effort and money going down the wrong roads, coming to even more incorrect conclusions. They waste time and resources that might have been beneficial to patients.

This is the first in a series of posts about transparency -- the concept of making these cover-ups public, bringing them out into the open, so that patients can know about them, use them in their decision-making, and make better choices for themselves.

Knowledge of bad research and skewed results helps us make smarter decisions for ourselves.


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