Increasingly, we are finding pressure from the insurance world to demonstrate that the treatments we go through are the best available, meaning the most cost effective and yielding the best results. Research into prostate cancer is lagging and has not relied on evidence based results. Treatment decisions are often made on nonscientific consensus of the community and individual stories and experiences.

Evidence based treatment decisions are quickly becoming the direction for the medical community. Insurance carriers are increasingly demanding proof that a treatment is effective before they will pay. Practitioners too are beginning to ask the very same question. They want to know what is the comparative effectiveness of one treatment over another.

How are these questions answered? The answer is through simple basic research. However, not all research is created equal. Much research is excellent; however, there is also much research, which is biased, not scientific and just plain bad.

Both professionals and nonprofessionals need to learn how to evaluate the quality of research. We need to be able to critical of what we read and not automatically assume that what we read is correct. Reaching this level of understanding takes time and experience. We need to look critically at all we read. We need to know what questions to ask to be able to assess the validity of a published research report.

According to the National Institute of Health we need to start out by asking these questions:

• Was the study in animals or people?
• Does the study include people like you?
• Was it a randomized controlled clinical trial?
• Where was the research done?
• If a new treatment was being tested, were there side effects?
• Who paid for the research?
• Who is reporting the results?

The NIH maintains a web page (Understanding Medical Research ) specific to this issue. I recommend that you take a look at it ands its links to learn more about being critical about medical research.

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW