Exposing cancer quacks

Exposing cancer Quacks

Originally published in Issue 2 2006 icon

My mum always wanted me to be a doctor. To this day she still thinks I wasted my Oxford Biochemistry degree! I have long given up trying to explain that the call of capitalism crafted by a mischievous advertising industry to an impecunious student in 1972 simply outgunned the idea of studying for a further three years in poverty.

Open quotesId have had a dreadful bedside mannerClose quotes

And anyway Id have had a dreadful bedside manner. Im not sure that twenty-first century doctors are allowed to utter the words, Get back to work you skiver: I think I read something to that effect in the socialist directive on political correctness 2006, volume 93. It was just after the section that says judges are not allowed to use the word immigrant, when describing our brothers and sisters from Latvia or Kazakhstan when they are up in court for beating up an old lady. Apparently its degrading.

One wonders sometimes about this fairy tale world that our lords and masters live in. Certainly Patricia Hewitt had a mega reality check when speaking to the nurses in early May. Sensitive Politician would appear to be the ultimate oxymoron.

Quack Cancer Doctors

I have to say that I fared considerably better when speaking to the doctors and nurses at Primary Care 2006 (NEC Birmingham May 6th). In fact, Ive already been invited back to speak next year by popular demand! (I always liked doctors and nurses!)

My speech was entitled Cancer Cures or Quackery? Its a title lifted from the Daily Mail of February 14th 2006.

In this edition they sent a journalist posing as a cancer patient to six alternative cancer practitioners; names found (would you believe) in that well-known medical journal, Yellow Pages.

Open quotesActually, Im all for this kind of journalismClose quotes

Actually, Im all for this kind of journalism; the journalist blatantly exposed five of the six doctors who were talking cobblers (thats a technical medical term) about the alternative therapies - expensive alternative therapies - he might use. Only one sensible chap said that he would be happy to work with the patients doctor to build a personal complementary programme for him (and where have I heard that before?)

Even more worrying though was the fact that after each recommendation, two experts (namely Professors Ernst and Baum) were asked to comment on the recommendation. Their comments were a mixture of no research evidence, doesnt work right through to only used by unscrupulous practitioners over the border in Mexico.

Primary Care Speech

In my speech to the doctors I examined the use of the clinical trial, so beloved of Professor Baum, and how it is really only confined to chemotherapy and obviously rarely used in cases of surgery or radiotherapy. I looked at the hard (non-clinical trial) research available on a number of complementary therapies, like taking vitamin D (see earlier in this magazine) and vitamin K, or on how exercise, mind therapies, even sex and prayer had large scale studies - usually from America - showing strong positive effects.

We then went through the ways a cancer might form and alternative therapies to counter each - including a chart or two on each of Gonzalez, Gerson, Metabolic Therapy, Ozone Therapy, Ultrasound, PDT and more.

Open quotesOften - although not always - the delivery is simply not there yetClose quotes

The doctors clearly appreciated the speech; balanced, objective were the two most common descriptors. Why? Because I came to a very simple conclusion about most of these therapies (and Im very glad I did the exercise): That the logic and the biochemistry/science of all of them is very, very sound. However, often - although not always - the delivery is simply not there yet.

Indeed far from being charlatans and cranks I presented truths and facts such as there were clinical trials on diet therapies, like that used by Gonzalez; that Contreras who uses metabolic and ozone therapies also uses chemotherapy and radiotherapy and the Oasis of Hope is in Mexico...because he (and his father before him) is Mexican!

The whole experience was illuminating for me (and I think for the doctors and nurses too). Because when you look at the hard evidence dispassionately you really do see that complementary therapies make a significant difference to the survival of cancer patients. As do some alternative therapies (but only a few).

Are We Being Left Behind In The UK?

Whilst preparing my speech, my attention was drawn to a major conference about to take place in Edmonton, Canada. The World Health Organisation is speaking, as is the USAs finest (MD Anderson, UCLA, UCSF, Chicago University, Harvard Medical School and a host of others); then there are speakers from top centres from Beijing to Paris and importantly the National Institute of Cancer in the USA.

Open quotesDisinterest from the UK in the midst of positive excitement in other countries is merely par for the courseClose quotes

Notable for their absence: The Royal Marsden, Christie Manchester, Addenbrooks or anyone from London, Oxford or Cambridge or any other top UK Cancer Centre you care to mention. Whats the conference about? Why, complementary and alternative therapies, of course.

But this disinterest from the UK in the midst of positive excitement in other countries is merely par for the course. I have told you previously about the formation in the USA of the National Institute of Complementary Health. Its a Government-funded body with the aim of trying to provide hard research evidence on complementary and alternative therapies.

At the same time as it was formed, laws were passed and unfounded criticism bordering on libel and slander made by certain quarters in the USA against such therapies has had to stop. Its now illegal. As a result bodies such as Quack Watch have been driven underground onto the net and largely discredited (except by Professor Ernst, whose review two years ago, praised them). Comments like unscrupulous practitioners across the border in Mexico, are now very non-PC in the USA.

The truth is that the UK medical world is in serious danger of being left behind. GPs simply are not trained in, say, diet and nutrition, nor in mental state and the latest in the mind-body relationship.

So when a patient asks about using Gerson or Qi Gong, the average GP is well outside their comfort zone and the response is usually born out of embarrassment or ignorance.

Even I was extremely surprised to find Qi Gong debated and analysed in such detail at the Edmonton gathering, and Im supposed to be more knowledgeable than most.

Open quotesThe response is usually born out of embarrassment or ignoranceClose quotes

At the same time Im reminded of comments the same Professor Baum made about 18 months ago. In response to Prince Charles saying that a female friend had had breast cancer for seven years and treated herself with Gerson Therapy alone, Baum stated that if these diet therapies would not submit themselves to the rigours of examination (its those clinical trials again) they were doomed to stay outside the mainstream.

But even that is changing. In the USA there is a major magazine called Integrative Cancer Therapies. It is currently in its fifth year, and the editorial board again includes Americas finest. The NIC, Harvard, MD Anderson etc. etc. etc. Oh, and the Gerson Institute.

And theres the reality check. In France my doctor is also a homeopath. In America the Gerson people sit in the same room as the National Institute of Cancer and Harvard Medical School luminaries.

It may not be politically correct of me to say it but If the powers that be in UK cancer treatment dont wake up, they and their patients will be left behind. Its just not true that vitamin C megadoses have no research supporting them. (Riordan, Levine and others).

Its not true that taking antioxidants or vitamin C messes up radiotherapy and chemotherapy (UCLA; MD Anderson).

In the last month there have been letters from Gonzalez with research evidence, a full review by Ralph Moss (also on the Editorial board) and papers published in Integrative Cancer Therapies and on PubMed - they are there for all to read.

Open quotesThe sad truth is that there are extremists in both wings of the medical worldClose quotes

The sad truth is that there are extremists in both wings of the medical world. 47 per cent of cancer patients use the internet and read that Coral Calcium, or Noni Juice cure cancer. They dont.

But they also read extremists from the other end of the spectrum making derogatory claims about therapies that actually could help them.

Frankly, they are both as bad as each other. Theirs is the ultimate quackery.

When we launched CANCERactive our aim was to overcome this: To provide people with all the information: Honest, objective, trustworthy. I cant say were there yet, but were having a really good try. If something works well tell you.

If something doesnt well tell you. If it exists well tell you. Its your right to know the truth and nobody has the right to misinform you, even by omission.

Chris Woollams Quack Watch
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