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Media Hyping and Premature Promises Do Not Help

Recently, journalists picked up on a poster session on the effect of ginger on ovarian cancer cells at the 97th American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting (AACR) in Washington, DC (April 1-5, 2006). Forbes called it, “Ginger an Ovarian Cancer Killer.” The poster authors’ school, University of Michigan also sent out a press release subtitled, “Cell studies show promise for ginger as potential ovarian cancer treatment.”

This illustrates my concern of how a piece of scientific “evidence” is so preliminary, yet generates a level of sensation that is far from warranted.

I also object to U. of Michigan’s use of the word “promise” in the press release. I’d have preferred the entire subtitle replaced with the disclaimer, “Study done in petri dish – not even animals or human – please do not gorge on ginger.”

A definition of “promise” speaks to expectation of something that is likely to happen. This study is too early to speak of any promises.

The abstract (#4510) on AACR’s website stated the following objective: “In the present study, we explored the response of ovarian cancer cells to ginger in vitro.” Based on the experimental methods and results, the authors certainly have achieved their objective. They looked at the response of ovarian cancer cells to ginger in petri dishes (probably 24- or 96-well plates). They saw something happen: some ovarian cancer cells died. The researchers then measured proteins that are produced in the process, and looked at the cells through a microscope.

The authors concluded that ginger causes ovarian cancer cells to commit suicide (process called programmed cell death or apoptosis). Furthermore, “Our preliminary results indicate that ginger is a nutraceutical that may have significant therapeutic benefit for ovarian cancer patients.” Going back to the issue of semantics, any results that is “preliminary” is a long way from “significant”, especially when the study is done in a highly-controlled (artificial) environment in a petri dish.

While I find this early data interesting and warranting additional studies, hyping up the research this way is why the public keeps asking, “with all our scientific and technological innovation, why haven’t we cured cancer?”

Updated: June 30, 2013 — 8:08 am

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