ABC News: Shame on You

It’s going to be a big weekend for outrage.

Here’s the letter I e-mailed to ABC News after reading its story about Elizabeth Edwards’ prognosis following her breast cancer recurrence.

Your story on Elizabeth Edwards’ cancer recurrence was extremely irresponsible.

This is the story I’m talking about:
Elizabeth Edwards Enters Second Cancer Fight

And this is the section:
According to the American Cancer Society, there are no reliable statistics on the survival of women with recurrent stage IV breast cancer.

However, women with an initial diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer have a five-year survival rate of between 18 and 20 percent. This means that for every five women who have stage IV breast cancer, only one survives after five years.

At seven years, the survival rate for these women drops to 11 percent.

First, THERE IS recent research on how long women with metastatic breast cancer are living, it was done at MD Anderson in Texas. If I recall it correctly, the study found that more than 40 percent of women with metastatic disease were living five years from the time of the metastases. Older data shows that women typically lived two to three years from the time of the recurrence.

A simple Google search would have turned up this information:
Is Breast Cancer Survival Improving?

Second, having said there is no reliable data, your story then gives data for a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT scenario: women whose cancer is stage IV at the time of diagnosis.

That, clearly, is not Ms. Edwards’ situation, and to use this data in a story about her will leave readers with the idea that she has only a one in five chance of living five years–when her chances are much better than that.

Shame on you.

Jeanne Sather
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998
Local recurrence in 1999
Cancer metastasized to the bones in 2001
Still alive, writing and teaching and basically raising hell

A Footnote: The best story I’ve seen on Elizabeth Edwards is this one from Reuters.
(Disclosure: I used to work for Reuters, so I may be slightly biased, but Reuters does an excellent job of making sure its stories are accurate and not overly sensational.)

Elizabeth Edwards diagnosis not a death sentence

@ Jeanne Sather 2007.
Posted at 03:23 PM in Cancer News, Letters, Metastatic Cancer |