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Biomedicine in museums

False hope in breast cancer treatment – a cautionary recent biomedical history tale

By September 12, 2007No Comments

If you happen to be in the Greater Washington area in late September, take the opportunity to attend a lecture by Richard A. Rettig titled “History-Telling and Innovation in Medicine, a Discussion of False Hope: Bone Marrow Transplantation for Breast Cancer”. It’s on Friday, September 28, 2007 at 12:00 in Building 50, room 1227-1233 in the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md.

Richard A. Rettig (RAND Corporation) is coauthor with Peter Jacobson, Cynthia Farquhar, and Wade Aubry of False Hope: Bone Marrow Transplantation for Breast Cancer (Oxford University Press, 2007):

A research study in book form, False Hope is a cautionary tale that details how the factors that drove clinical use of high-dose chemotherapy with autologous bone marrow transplantation (HDC/ABMT)–patient demand, physician enthusiasm, media reporting, litigation, and administrative mandates–converged to propel the procedure forward despite a lack of proven clinical effectiveness. By the 1990s, HDC/ABMT had burst upon the oncology scene and disseminated rapidly before having been carefully evaluated. By the time published studies showed that the procedure was ineffective, more than 30,000 women had received the treatment, shortening their lives and adding to their suffering. False Hope also analyzes the failure of the technology assessments and randomized clinical trials that evaluated the procedure and the ramifications of this flawed system on health care today. Sections of the book consider the initial conditions surrounding the emergence of the new breast cancer treatment, the drivers of clinical use, and the struggle for evidence-based medicine. A concluding section addresses the significance of the story for our health care system.

The lecture is co-sponsored by the Office of NIH History and the Biomedical Research History Interest Group. More info from Joseph November (

An excellent topic for a small museum exhibition — who’s first?

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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