Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Writing About Medical Research Findings

Here's an odd thing: Two reports about the same breast cancer recurrence study were published today. One of them begins like this:

Even early-stage breast cancer patients who complete five years of drug treatment have a significant risk for relapsing, new research shows.

The study included patients treated at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center between 1985 and 2001 who were cancer-free five years after initial treatment with surgery or surgery and radiation.

The other one, discussing the very same study, begins like this:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Women who survive breast cancer for five years after treatment have a relatively low risk of the disease recurring, according to a U.S. study published on Tuesday.

Is the glass half empty or half full? What is it about these write-ups that chose to go either positive or negative? The actual information in the stories is roughly the same, except for the selected emotional tilt.

More generally, I'm not sure what "recurrence" means in the sense of a lot of time passing after breast cancer treatment. Couldn't the new cancer be a totally new one? I doubt that surviving breast cancer means that the woman is then somehow guaranteed a zero risk of it in the future, but I may be confused about that issue.