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.