Controversial Research; Terrible Nomenclature

No, no, no!

Genetic research and preimplantation genetic testing are controversial enough, and subject to enough hyperbole, without this kind of bad scientific journalism — or bad scientific headline-writing? — making things worse.

From CNN Health:
‘Cancer-free’ baby born in London

The first child in Britain known to have been screened as an embryo to ensure she did not carry a cancer gene was born Friday, a spokesman for University College London told CNN.

Her embryo was screened in a lab days after conception to check for the BRCA-1 gene, linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

People with the gene are known to have a 50-80 percent chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer in their lifetimes.

British newspapers have dubbed the girl the “cancer-free” baby.

Probably everyone reading this blog will know already what the problem is, here. Calling this kid “cancer-free” is incredibly misleading, and grossly overstates the benefits of this controversial procedure. This kid is absolutely, positively, not “cancer free,” at least if that term is meant to imply “free from ever getting cancer.” This kid is, admittedly, free from one genetically-linked sub-type of one kind of cancer. That, in itself, is a good thing. But it’s very different from being cancer-free. Cancer is roughly the #2 cause of death, and eliminating one type from this kid’s future doesn’t change the fact that cancer is still the second-most likely thing to kill this kid, over her lifetime.

This is a case of bad scientific journalism, but I think health researchers have an ethical responsibility to correct journalists in cases like this.

~ by Nancy Walton on January 9, 2009.

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