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The Mail Online had an inaccurate headline

Earlier this week, we released new stats about how pancreatic cancer – one of the most devastating and hard to treat forms of the disease – is linked to two lifestyle factors: smoking and obesity.

The story appeared in several newspapers and online, and on ITV news. You can see the general gist of the coverage here, and most of it was pretty accurate… except for one piece, which appeared on The Mail Online – specifically, the headline and accompanying summary.

Our story specifically dealt with two things that made pancreatic cancer more likely among otherwise healthy people. It said nothing whatsoever about how being overweight or smoking affected people currently living with pancreatic cancer.

Regardless, the Mail Online ran the following, somewhat nonsensical headline:

Almost 40% of pancreatic cancer patients could protect themselves from the deadly disease by making simple lifestyle changes

(Emphasis ours)

The article’s intro continued with several summary bullet points, one of which read:

- A healthy weight and not smoking could help two fifths save themselves

This is completely inaccurate, and potentially upsetting for both patients living with the disease, and the thousands of families who have been affected in the past.

Furthermore, the implication that lifestyle changes could help cure pancreatic cancer entirely flies in the face of what our press release – and the evidence – actually says.

It’s worth noting that the actual copy of the news article was, broadly, correct (although we’d question the sentiment behind the statement that patients ‘could have saved themselves’ if only they’d refrained from smoking or lost weight – see our post ‘Against the blame game’ for more on this).

We have, several times over the past two days, contacted the Mail and asked them if they’d correct the headline.

As of 2pm this afternoon – fully 62 hours after publication, and despite a positive response to one of our emails – it remains inaccurate.

We do not expect every journalist to get every science or statistics story 100% right 100% of the time – mistakes happen. And we accept that the line or slant a newspaper gives a story is something that we can’t control. That’s part and parcel of working with the media.

But it’s sad to see a widely read, international news organisation make such a howler, and fail to correct it. To suggest that patients with a devastating disease like pancreatic cancer could ‘save themselves’ by making ‘simple lifestyle changes’ completely misrepresents the underlying facts, causes needless anguish and – in the case of weight loss – is potentially dangerous.

Henry

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Margaret Sharrock July 14, 2014

That’s a load of rubbish my mother had this she was thin and never smoked, eat well and looked after herself.