Study: Websites Often Downplay Limitations of Personal Cancer Tests

March 12, 2015 in News

Websites that sell personalized cancer tests tend to promote their benefits while downplaying their potential limitations, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, HealthDay/U.S. News World Report reports.

Details of Study

For the study, researchers analyzed 55 websites offering such tests (Preidt, HealthDay/U.S. News World Report, 3/5). The websites include those that were:

  • Commercially sponsored;
  • Promoted by academic institutions;
  • Promoted by private organizations; and
  • Promoted by individual doctors.

The researchers consulted an expert panel to determine whether the advertised tests were sufficiently backed by scientific evidence. The panel considered tests trustworthy based on whether large randomized trials or analyses of such trials found them effective, among other factors.

Findings

Overall, the study found that:

  • 85% of the websites detailed the benefits of their products; and
  • 27% described potential limitations (Neumann, Reuters, 3/11).

In addition, the websites largely lacked evidence to support the genetic testing companies’ claims, which lack FDA oversight, according to the study. For example, 88% of websites offered at least one “nonstandard” test that was not backed by evidence that it adds value to routine cancer care.

In a statement, Stacy Gray — an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and lead author of the study — said that while “some of the information [on the websites] is good … all of it needs to be looked at critically by consumers and health care providers” (HealthDay/U.S. News World Report, 3/5).

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