Even studies deemed suitable for publication in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine can’t earn the respect of the media when they see an opportunity to bash “big tobacco.”
“It sounded promising – a study published two years ago in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine claimed that an annual CT [computed tomography]scan could detect lung cancer early enough to extend a patient’s life by at least ten years – a remarkable survival rate for such a deadly disease,” CBS correspondent Maggie Rodriguez said on the March 27 “Early Show.”
“But, this week a bombshell,” she said, “an investigation by The New York Times revealed the study was actually funded almost entirely by the tobacco industry. That raises ethical questions of whether the research is truly unbiased.”
The New York Times story, published on March 26, reported an organization called the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention & Treatment financed most of the research conducted at Cornell University. The group was underwritten by a company called the Vector Group (NYSE:VGR), parent of the Liggett Group, a cigarette manufacturer.
Neither Rodriguez nor The New York Times pointed to specific problems with the study’s findings. It’s guilt by association for Dr. Claudia Henschke of Weill Cornell Medical College, the president of the foundation.
Henschke’s study, published in 2006, reported 80 percent of lung cancer deaths could be prevented through widespread use of CT scans. According to the Times article, Henschke said the source of the study’s funding could have been easily found with a simple Internet search.
But that wasn’t transparent enough for CBS’s “Early Show” contributor Dr. Steven Nissen, cardiologist and researcher at The Cleveland Clinic. He claimed the source of funding was “deliberately concealed.”
“[I]t’s important for everyone to understand why the medical community is so upset and outraged about this,” Nissen said. “You know, we must tell the public and our colleagues what the sources of funding for the research we do, because medical research is a special trust. Patients’ lives depend on what we do. When that – when the source of funding is deliberately concealed, it raises huge questions about whether the research can actually be believed.”
Although there is “outrage,” according to the Times, Henschke’s study has been “embraced by many lung-cancer advocacy organizations, which have pushed for legislation in California, New York and Massachusetts to create trust funds to pay for lung cancer screening.”