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Research Letter |

The Use of Superlatives in Cancer Research

Matthew V. Abola, BA1; Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH2,3
[+] Author Affiliations
1Medical student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio
2Medical Oncology Service, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland
3now with Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology, Knight Cancer Institute, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland
JAMA Oncol. 2016;2(1):139-141. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.3931.
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This investigation of recent news coverage of cancer research found that although most new cancer drugs offer only modest benefits, they are often described in the news media with superlatives, such as “revolutionary” and “game changer,” that may be unwarranted.

The language used in oncology practice and research may elicit important connotations.1 Whereas most new cancer drugs afford modest benefits,2 approved drugs or those in development may be heralded as “game changers” or “breakthroughs” in the lay press. These news articles may be important sources of information to patients, the public, and investors—with a broader reach than medical journal articles. However, omission of medical context or use of inflated descriptors may lead to misunderstandings among readers.3

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