6 Ways to Turn Data into a Good Read

Ever take a bunch of facts and turn them into something readable? For real people? From many dry scientific journals? When sources disagree? Vehemently?

That is exactly what UCSF researchers Thea Tlsty, PhD, Philippe Gascard, PhD, and I did. Here is what we learned in order to help make sense out of a major worry for women.

But First, Why?

Computer generated 3D photo rendering.

We want to help ~60,000 people (mostly women) who deal with a condition called Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) each year. It’s often over-treated, so women want to know what to do. Many questions surround DCIS, and researchers argue at every step along the way.

“DCIS means cells inside the breast duct look and behave like cancer cells. DCIS cells, though, stay inside the ducts and do not travel anywhere else in the body.”

Excerpt From: Deborah E. Collyar. “DCIS Dilemmas

For instance, is DCIS really cancer? Some say no, and want to change its name. Others treat everyone as if they have breast cancer. Still others want to find the 1 out of 10 women (11%) who will eventually get invasive breast cancer so they can be treated, or find the next 11% who might get another DCIS that won’t affect how long they live.

“When you put a frightening term like carcinoma on a lesion that, on average, doesn’t go on to invade normal tissue, that can prompt women who are justifiably frightened of the word cancer to have therapy that’s every bit as aggressive as if they had a true invasive cancer.”

Barry Kramer, Director, Division of Cancer Prevention at the National Cancer Institute in an article from Proto

A few focus on finding almost 8 of 10 women (78%) who will only have DCIS once, and don’t need to endure the long-term problems of over-treatment. Our efforts turned into a new eBook called DCIS Dilemmas: Discussions about Ductal Carcinoma and the Research Behind It. So, how did we do it?

How to group complex data

1. Gather a Range of Data

Research is important, but don’t expect simple answers. We scoured scientific studies (in journals and conferences), and separated conclusions and opinions into different categories. We set a rule that all of the facts we used had to come from at least 2-3 different sources. Articles like this one from HealthNewsReview.org were also helpful.

“New DCIS study, news release lead to (very) mixed messages: ‘And we wonder why patients get confused’”

Dave Mosher in a HealthNewReview.org article

2. Find Out What is Important to Readers

Before starting the eBook, we surveyed 3 groups:

Important Stamp Shows Critical Information Or Documents

  • Women who were cancer-free
  • Women who had DCIS
  • Women who had invasive breast cancer (IBC)

We also held a DCIS Forum in San Francisco to present real information, dispel myths, and hear directly what women want to know.

3. Put It in Perspective

While DCIS is serious, it is not fatal. Unfortunately, many women are led to believe they have breast cancer and are treated this way even though most (over 3 out of 4) will never have another event. The important part is to figure out who is actually at risk for a future invasive breast cancer and what they can do about it.

4. Explain Why Everyone is Confused

Puzzled Confused Lost Signpost Shows Puzzling Problem

DCIS is as confusing to doctors and researchers as it is to patients. A lot of this is due to old ways of thinking, and old terms that are still used. For instance, most doctors and researchers talk about the risk of a “recurrence,” meaning another DCIS or breast cancer. This is actually impossible for DCIS! The old mindset treats DCIS as if it is cancer, not a pre-cancer. It’s time to change that.

5. Explain What Can Be Done About It

It was clear from women that they want to know what to do about DCIS. So, we shared information about:

  • How DCIS is diagnosed ebook DCIS Dilemmas - older woman w tablet
  • The different kinds of treatment used (including Active Surveillance)
  • What risks exist for all women, as well as risks after being diagnosed with DCIS

We also listed current research that will hopefully produce clearer answers in the future.

6. List Resources for All to See

We wanted full disclosure on all of our sources, so we listed everything we reviewed in categories for those who want more information. We also flagged some of the controversies so people can make up their own minds.

What Do You Do?

List your ideas in the comments, so we can learn from each other. We’d also appreciate your feedback on our approach. If you’re interested, check out DCIS Dilemmas: Discussions about Ductal Carcinoma and the Research Behind It and let us know what you think!

All content © 2016 by Deborah Collyar unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to use short quotes provided a link back to this page and proper attribution is given to me as the original author.

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