I recently read this article in the Limerick Leader about a young woman with breast cancer, who has decided to forego chemotherapy. Instead she is raising funds to go to Florida to receive an alternative type of treatment.
The treatment, from a crowd called the “Hippocrates Health Group”, is based on a strict vegan diet involving salads, sprouts, wheatgrass shots, and “green juices which are solely made from cucumber, celery and sprouts”. There’s a fair amount of “positive attitude” thrown in also.
In other words, quackery.
Let’s be clear on this. There is no evidence that vegan diets can cure cancer. None. If there was a smidgen of truth to it, medical science and the medical establishment would be all over it. It’s really that serious. Nobody is immune from it, no matter how rich or well connected you are. Everybody is looking for better cures and treatments.
Let’s also be clear on something. No doctor likes giving chemo to people. It’s harsh. It’s distressing. It’s not certain to work. It’s done because it’s one of the few treatments out there that has a track record of effectiveness. Chemo saves lives.
There’s a Nobel Prize and lasting fame waiting the people who find a more humane treatment to ward off cancer. It’s also safe to say that the promoters of vegan diets won’t be travelling to Stockholm anytime soon.
This blog entry is not about a young woman facing a desperate choice and the decisions she makes. I am sure if I were in a similar position I would cling to any possibility, no matter how small.
Neither is it about the many people of good will who are doing what they can to help her and support her. They are showing great compassion by doing what they can to help her.
It’s the providers of these witch-doctor cures that we should be angry at. These people have spotted an opportunity in the market, and they are exploiting it for all it’s worth. They organise and attend fancy seminars and tell people what they want to hear. They accuse doctors of cover ups and cite miraculous case studies, all in an effort to persuade people to take their expensive cures and attend their expensive clinics. It’s all smoke and mirrors because the evidence just doesn’t stack up. If they are capable of persuading people to forgo conventional therapy for vegan diets and positive thinking, then they are risking peoples lives in a very grave and serious way.
We need to get better at this. We need to get better at spotting quack science and quack medicine. We need to be able to distinguish proper studies from mere anecdote. There are things in life that work, and there are even more things that pretend to work, but do not. All options should be on the table, sure, but not if the only medical benefit is the health of some foreign organisation’s bank account.
For information on vegan diets and cancer please check out the American Cancer Society, your local Cancer organisation, or your local doctor. A number of doctors are blogging on cancer quackery, such as Science Based Medicine, Respectful Insolence and DCs Improbable Science. Also worth a read are The Quackometer blog and Zeno’s Blog.
December 24, 2013 at 9:23 am
The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, while the other prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden. The Nobel Prize is widely regarded as the most prestigious award available in the fields of literature, medicine, physics, chemistry, peace, and economics. I presume you were referring to the Nobel Prize for medecine.
December 24, 2013 at 9:24 am
Yes – thank you. I will modify that.
December 24, 2013 at 10:23 am
The most notorious sCAM treatment must be the Burzynski Clinic in Texas. In 2011 a young Dublin man with inoperable brain cancer and his friends raised $120,000 to send him to have the obviously fake treatment. The unfortunate man has since died. The treatment didn’t work. The more I have read of this “clinic” the more incensed I have become. Is there not anything that can be done to stop such fund raising in Ireland? There used to be a requirement to have the permission of the Garda to raise funds, that seems to have gone by the wayside.
See here http://theotherburzynskipatientgroup.wordpress.com/
December 24, 2013 at 11:05 am
It’s similar to the Burzynski story. In the UK, the Cancer Act forbids all Cancer advertising. I don’t think we have similar legislation here.
January 11, 2014 at 12:42 pm
If certain foods or diet can cause cancer why would it be improbable that certain foods or diet would cure cancer? I am not advocating that a certain type of diet will CURE cancer whatsoever but it is not implausable. It should not be just dismissed as quackery. After all, The Irish Cancer Society have a lot to say on diet and cancer on their website. http://www.cancer.ie/reduce-your-risk/healthy-lifestyle/diet-and-cancer
What is the official cure rate of Chemo across all cancers?
January 12, 2014 at 10:03 am
Your question is akin to “if matches light fires, then why is it improbable that some types of matches can put out fires?”. I think there’s a confusion here between cancer causing and cancer curing. Both typically operate by very different mechanisms – and the curing bit is way, way more complicated. Maybe some diets do cure cancer, but clinical data is required, and there is a paucity of clinical data proving that diets of health foods or supplements have the powers their proponents claim they have. Yet, despite the lack of evidence, it’s still one of the major articles of faith within the alt-med community.
The Irish cancer website talks about healthy eating as a way to minimise your risk of getting cancer. This I have no problem with. It’s not the issue, however. The article is specifically about *curing* cancer when it has manifested itself – a completely different problem to prevention.
Chemo is not a panacea. It is a cure for a small number of cancers, a treatment for a larger number, and ineffective for others. This guy does a better job than I could do to discuss the place of chemo in cancer treatment.