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Research Letter
January 2016

The Use of Superlatives in Cancer Research

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

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

We sought to investigate the use of modest and superlative descriptors in contemporary news articles regarding cancer drugs. We sought to determine who uses this inflated language and what classes of drugs were most heralded.