Respectful Insolence

I was doing my usual browsing of the web yesterday in search of topics for today’s post when I came across an excellent article by a colleague and friend of mine, Dr. Rachael Dunlop, who nailed it in a post entitled Anti-vaccination activists should not be given a say in the media. In the article, Dr. Rachie nailed a point that I and other skeptics have been trying to make time and time again, namely how the press all too frequently inserts false balance in stories about medicine, particularly vaccines. As Dr. Rachie put it, we don’t give equal time to flat earth believers. My favorite example tends to be to point out that we don’t give equal time to moon hoaxers in stories about space exploration. So why do journalists so frequently give “equal time” to antivaccine cranks and quacks when writing stories about vaccines or influenza?

Sometimes, however, journalists go even beyond false balance by tilting that balance in the direction of quackery. Over the weekend I saw one of the most egregious examples of doing just that, a vile example of an article by someone named Anna Moore published in The Telegraph entitled ‘I feel empowered, in control of my body': four women on fighting cancer with alternative therapies. When I saw that article, I knew I had to blog about it, because it’s one of the worst examples of everything that can be wrong about journalism with respect to quackery that I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot. Now, I had never heard of Anna Moore before, but that’s not surprising given that I don’t live in the U.K. Be that as it may, reading her article depressed me greatly thinking of how many people with cancer it might imbue with doubts about science-based medicine or the idea that cancer quackery might cure them. Another reason I couldn’t resist is that the commenters there really, really don’t like me, which makes me hope that one of you will post a link to my not-so-Respectful Insolence directed at Moore in the comments after the article.

Moore goes wrong right from the start, with Moore spewing the usual cliches about cancer being on the rise and a survey from what appears to be a woo-friendly breast cancer charity in which a huge majority of patients viewed quackery as “essential” to their recovery. (OK, they didn’t call it quackery, but that’s what the modalities listed are.) She then proceeds to buy into the rebranding of “diet” as being somehow “alternative” rather than science-based. Of course, the “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) and “integrative medicine” version of diet resembles science-based diet recommendations usually only by coincidence. This leads her into a bit of “reverse balance” in which Moore quotes Martin Ledwick, the head information nurse at Cancer Research UK urging caution and trying to explain why testimonials are not good evidence for the efficacy of alternative cancer cures, which she then “balances” with four anecdotes, one of whom we’ve met before. Actually, Moore does more than “balance.” Her article crosses the line from journalism into promotion.

First up is Polly Noble, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer at age 24. Not coincidentally, she also runs a website that promotes raw food veganism and founded a store called DetoxYourWorld. Basically, as related in Moore’s story and Noble’s website, she had positive lymph nodes and underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, as well as brachytherapy. (Brachytherapy is a form of radiation therapy in which radioactive “seeds” are placed directly on the organ being treated; its advantage is a very direct, intense dose of radiation that doesn’t affect adjacent organs as much as beam radiotherapy can.) She recurred, as she described to Moore:

In February 2010 doctors found a growth in my neck: the cancer had come back. I was offered radiotherapy, but I said, “Give me six weeks to figure what I’m going to do.” I decided against conventional treatment. I wasn’t scared; I believed I could heal myself. I went 100-per-cent raw, upped my juicing regime and carried on with visualisation. Within two or three weeks I experienced amazing feelings. I was waking at 5.30am, raring to go.

For two years I felt great, but then the tumour started growing out of my neck and doctors found secondary cancer in my lungs. I was struggling to swallow, eat or breathe, and by August 2012 my consultant said I might not live to see Christmas. I didn’t want chemotherapy – I believe it’s a poison and it doesn’t deal with the root cause of cancer. I was worried I’d be judged if I went back to conventional medicine. But I do what I can to keep myself alive.

If I died because I was too stubborn or proud to do something I’d said I wasn’t going to do, then more fool me. Right now I’m using a two-pronged attack. I’ve had chemo to reduce the cancer and alternative therapies to get me through with virtually no side effects. It doesn’t have to be one way or the other. You can have the best of alternative and conventional medicine.”

That this story is being represented as a testimonial for alternative medicine is shocking. It’s obviously a failure of alternative medicine. To be fair, it’s also a failure of conventional medicine, given that she recurred, but no one claims that conventional therapy always works. In any event, Noble’s stubbornness is exactly what was driving her. She was afraid of being judged if she goes back to conventional treatment. However, clearly her symptoms must have been getting worse to the point of prodding her to overcome her aversion to effective therapies, because she decided that she would accept chemotherapy, rationalizing her decision to herself as using the “best of both worlds.” She isn’t, of course; it’s the chemotherapy that is providing palliation for her cancer and letting her swallow again. The alternative therapies are almost certainly doing nothing, given that the hated “conventional medicine” has become quite good at managing the side effects of treatment.

There’s one last thing before I move on to the next anecdote. Noble’s picture looks as though she has scar tissue on her neck and upper chest. To me this looks as though she’s had radiation therapy to the neck. It’s hard to tell, given the quality of the photo, but I bet that’s what happened. In any case, Noble’s case is not evidence for effectiveness of alternative therapy. She didn’t feel better until she agreed to accept chemotherapy. I also find it a journalistic failure that Moore never mentioned that Noble makes a living selling alternative treatments, mainly in the form of raw vegan foods and kitchen equipment like juicers, books, and supplements. She also buys into acid-base quackery.

Next up is a woman named Alyssa Burns-Hill. Again, Moore doesn’t mention that Burns-Hill makes a living selling alternative health modalities. She bills herself as a “leading Holistic Hormone Health Specialist” and she has clinics in Harley Street and Jersey. Hilariously, she represents herself as a “scientist and practitioner of health in its broadest sense.” One notes that she is not a physician, and her PhD “focused on ‘Holistic healing from breast cancer through the lens of hormones: Synopsis and synthesis.’”

Hers is a very easy testimonial to dispose of, because it is so typical. Indeed, I joked not too long ago that I really ought to try to come up with a pithy name for this variety of alternative cancer cure testimonial because it is so common. Basically, Burns-Hill had stage I breast cancer for which she underwent surgery. Afterward, she started radiation therapy but stopped it part way into the course of treatments and refused chemotherapy. Yes, as I’ve explained so many times before, the surgery is what cured her, not any combination of woo that she chose, including:

I call what I did a 21st-century version of Gerson therapy. I had four juices a day, 120 supplements, homoeopathic injections and four coffee enemas. I also did yoga, meditation, reiki – a holistic approach. It’s not an easy option. The treatment is a full-on, full-time job, and there’s no room for anything else.

After six months I started cutting down the coffee enemas and the number of juices. Now I eat healthily, maintain a high nutritional-supplement intake and love my job as a health specialist. I don’t go for check-ups or scans as I don’t want the stress. It has been 12 years now.

Pure quackery, and this article just keeps promoting it.

The fourth testimonial (I’ll come back to number three at the end, because she is the one I’ve written about before) comes from Sarah Shotton. Unlike the other women giving testimonials, Shotton does not appear to make a living selling woo. She is involved in fighting plans for a wind farm near her house, and in March she was featured in a story in The Journal, in which she was represented as having terminal cancer. In the photo accompanying Moore’s article, she definitely doesn’t look healthy, unfortunately. Yet she represents herself as feeling great, all because of the woo she follows.

Her story in brief is that she was diagnosed four years ago with HER2-positive breast cancer that required a mastectomy, after which she underwent six months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation therapy. Then this happened:

Then, in September 2012, a mass I’d noticed in my pelvis – which we first thought was an ovarian cyst – turned out to be a rare cancer: clear cell carcinoma, another primary site, unconnected to the first cancer. Apparently I was just “unfortunate”.

When I had a CT scan, doctors found two liver tumours – secondary cancers from the original breast cancer. The life expectancy isn’t good at all, and I was terrified of having chemo again, of putting my body through hell. I thought I’d have to refuse. My lovely friend who’d had breast cancer had now died; she’d taken every drug they’d offered and her suffering had been horrendous.

She discovered an “integrative” practitioner named Dr. Kate James, who mixed her up a bunch of Chinese herbs and recommended a bunch of dietary interventions while Shotton underwent chemotherapy. This in and of itself wouldn’t bother me so much, as long as Shotton kept undergoing palliative chemotherapy. It’s highly unlikely that all the acupuncture, raw vegan diet, and traditional Chinese medicine did one good thing for her. It isn’t cheap, either, £100 per week. Worse, she’s contemplating stopping chemotherapy and relying solely on the woo. Again, that in and of itself wouldn’t be so bad if she realized what she was doing, but she doesn’t:

I’m now at the stage where I want to stop the chemo, carry on with my diet and alternative treatments and just be monitored by my oncologist. He wants to keep me on the chemo indefinitely, my husband is absolutely terrified, and my sister used to be pharmacist, so there are intense discussions going on, but I feel empowered, in control of my body.

I would argue that true “empowerment” involves understanding the consequences of one’s choices. It would be one thing if she wanted to stop chemotherapy realizing that the end was near and opting for palliative therapy. That is often a very reasonable course of action. However, exhausting one’s life insurance to spend £400-500 a month on useless quackery thinking that it will prolong life is not “empowerment.” It’s being taken to the cleaners by quacks during what is, sadly, probably the last year or two of your life. This is particularly inexplicable in a country like the UK, with a national health care system paid for by taxes. I hope that Shotton keeps doing well, but right now it’s the chemotherapy that’s holding her cancer at bay. Moreover, because she is terminal, her oncologists probably chose a less aggressive chemotherapy regimen intentionally, because the intent is no palliation, not cure. The same is true of Polly Noble to treat her cancer recurrence. When the goal is palliation, side effects have to be minimized. Quack apologists who decide to use woo with conventional medicine don’t realize this. They tend to think of “chemotherapy” as a monolithic thing that’s always nasty, always toxic, always bad. It’s not. There are lots and lots of regimens whose toxicity varies a lot.

Which brings us to Hannah Bradley. I’ve extensively discussed her story before. She’s a young woman with a brain tumor who raised a lot of money to go to Houston and be treated by Stanislaw Burzynski. One thing that stands out is that it’s been a very long time since Hannah’s partner Pete Cohen has shown one of her MRI scans of her brain. Back in the day, about a year and a half ago, he proudly showed them off as evidence that Burzynski was curing her. Then, over the last several months, his video blogs with Hannah became more and more worrisome, with Hannah seemingly showing more of a left-sided facial droop and the both of them becoming more and more evasive about Hannah’s brain tumor. Indeed, I had considerable reason to believe that in November of last year it had appeared to come back, as Pete and Hannah admitted that they didn’t have the “best of news.” So what do we learn in Moore’s story?

This:

Pete and I learnt how to prepare and administer the treatment ourselves and it carried on in Britain for another 18 months. It’s not an easy option. My blood was checked twice a week, and I was scanned every six weeks at a private hospital. Most importantly, it seemed to be working. The tumour kept getting smaller, and in January this year it was all gone. I’m now off the treatment but still being monitored.

Indeed, as I pointed out back in March, in Pete and Hannah’s vlog of December 2, 2012, Pete was noticeably evasive when discussing her latest scan, and both Pete and Hannah appeared uncomfortable:

In their vlog of March 2, 2013, Hannah admitted that she still had a “really cystic area in my head” but insisted that there’s no enhancing tumor and wouldn’t say if what is there is increasing in size or stable:

In this vlog, dated April 1, 2013, Hannah says she’s due for a scan in two weeks, after which she might be able to come off of antineoplastons. Then, on June 6, 2013, Pete and Hannah posted a vlog declaring that Hannah had been taken off of antineoplastons:

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I wish Hannah and Pete no ill will. They genuinely believe that Burzynski saved Hannah’s life. I really hope that Hannah continues to do well and lives to a ripe old age. I just don’t see any evidence that Stanislaw Burzynski is responsible for her good fortune, for reasons that I’ve explained in depth before. It also disturbs me that there appears to be a discrepancy between what Hannah reports in Moore’s story and what she and Pete Cohen have been saying in their vlogs and in the media. For instance, after a BBC Panorama story on Burzynski, Pete Cohen showed up in the British media saying that Hannah was doing well and castigating critics of Burzynski. Then, in Pete and Hannah’s vlog of June 6, I can’t help but note that neither Hannah nor Pete actually say that her tumor is gone, just that she’s “doing really well.” Before that, in March, Hannah said that she had a “cystic area” in her head. Yet in Moore’s article, she says her tumor was “all gone” in January. Given Burzynski’s well known proclivity for misreading MRI scans and mistakenly telling patients that “cystic” areas are the tumor breaking down, as he did to the parents of Amelia Saunders, I remain afraid for Hannah Bradley. I just don’t know what is going on with her. The stories conflict, and her partner Pete Cohen is squirrelly. On the other hand, she is two and a half years out from her diagnosis, which is on the right side of the median survival for her tumor type. We can only hope this continues.

On the other hand, although I bear Hannah Bradley no ill will, the same cannot be said for Anna Moore. She wrote nothing less than a promotional article touting cancer quackery, and The Telegraph, in a fit of irresponsibility, published it as not just false balance but reverse balance.

Comments

  1. #1 Josephine Jones
    October 22, 2013

    “Dr” Alyssa Burns Hill is listed as “noncompliant” by the UK Advertising Standards Authority. She has made misleading advertising claims and failed to amend them.

    http://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Non-compliant-online-advertisers/Dr-Alyssa-Burns.aspx

  2. #2 Guy Chapman
    United Kingdom
    October 22, 2013

    There are two forms of “medicine” at work here.

    One is “eccevide-based medicine” – from the Latin, ecce! vide!, behold, I have seen! – the blind belief that will not be contradicted because it feels true. As Hubbard says, “What is true is true for you. No one has any right to force data on you and command you to believe it or else. If it’s not true for you, it isn’t true. Think your own way through things, accept what is true for you, discard the rest.” Apparently this is one of the founding tenets of scientology.

    The other, more perverse but in a way less worrying because most people wil recognise it as batshit crazy, is “ecnedive-based medicine”; this is where you precisely reverse the evidence and assume that the more solidly science contradicts something, the more truthiness it has. You can see this at work with the user chrisb1 here: http://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/miracle-cures-medicine-treatments-sense-about-science/

  3. #3 sophia8
    October 22, 2013

    a survey from what appears to be a woo-friendly breast cancer charity

    The Haven isn’t a charity – it’s a tiny private alt-med so-called health centre. The article is practically an ad for it.

  4. #4 sophia8
    October 22, 2013

    Whoops. The Telegraph linked to the wrong Haven. This is the right link: http://www.thehaven.org,uk. And it is indeed a charity; Prince Charles is a patron.
    But I’ve still never heard of it.

  5. #5 Dorothy Paterson
    UK
    October 22, 2013

    http://www.thehaven.org.uk/sites/default/files/The%20Haven's%20A-Z%20Guide_0.pdf

    Looks like quack central to me, reiki, homeopathy, cranio sacral etc etc.

  6. #6 Krebiozen
    October 22, 2013

    I live in the UK and I’d never heard of Anna Moore either, but I don’t read the Telegraph. It’s depressing how making foolish decisions about one’s health is considered “empowering”. The statement, “I don’t go for check-ups or scans as I don’t want the stress” made me shudder. That’s plain stupid.

  7. #7 Dangerous Bacon
    October 22, 2013

    Thanks for another good article highlighting media gullibility about woo.

    Here’s another egregious example – an ABC news article which rushes headlong to embrace the idea that “bad gut flora” cause mood disorders. Featured are an “integrative psychiatrist” who claims to have successfully treated hundreds of cases of “dysbiosis” (a fantasy diagnosis embraced by the Candida overgrowth crowd), and the Great Plains Laboratory. (the GPL is big on what its critics call “nonstandard laboratory tests”, and the article promotes the idea that a positive urine test for a Clostridia metabolite means you should dose autistic children with a high-powered antibiotic to relieve their symptoms.*

    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/anxiety-head-gut/story?id=20229136

    *not sure how a course of Vancomycin is supposed to promote healthy, balanced gut flora.

  8. #8 Mark McAndrew
    October 22, 2013

    Thanks Orac, great takedown. Perhaps you should ask the Telegraph for right of reply? As a real oncologist (whose entire profession is under attack by these pricks) you have the moral authority to demand it.

    Comments were fun tho. Although debating the spectacular embarrassment that is Sandra Courtney was a bit like going ten rounds with a propped-up corpse. Good exercise, but not exactly testing. Nor hygienic.

    BTW, lilady, you’ve accidently upvoted one of the Demented One’s posts, the entirely non-ironic “I think I have exposed your and other skeptics’ credibility as well. Actually, better than you think you have tarnished mine. More batty arrogance on display.”

    (Is it true she reckons magic water saved her life from mercury poisoning from her fillings? Gods, what a freak!)

  9. #9 Eric Lund
    October 22, 2013

    If Ms. Moore didn’t bother to mention that two of her four cases are people who make a living pushing woo, that is serious malpractice. When Orac or I publish a paper, we are required to disclose our funding sources, precisely to avoid any appearance of impropriety. Granted that many alt-med types don’t bother to publish anything, but for Ms. Noble or Dr. Burns-Hill (what institution granted her a Ph.D. anyway? This sounds like a case where those initials really do stand for “Piled Higher and Deeper”) to get their stories in a prominent newspaper without disclosing their funding sources is at minimum an optics issue.

  10. #10 Mark McAndrew
    October 22, 2013

    From the same paper today; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/wellbeing/10385871/Friends-say-Im-mad-but-I-heard-Princess-Diana.html

    (Yup, exactly what it sounds like. With a link to buy her book at the end, too.)

  11. #11 Rebecca Harbison
    October 22, 2013

    Eric, it could depend on what her PhD is in. Linus Pauling showed that just because you are a scholar in one field doesn’t mean you can transfer your expertise to another. And often means you think you can do your own research without consulting those in the field*.

    * Which is a good way to make beginner’s mistakes.

  12. #12 Tim
    October 22, 2013

    The below comment on the team Hannah FB page on September 18th is pretty clear? If shes truly free there must be no tumour. I don’t know enough about life expectancy to judge if there’s anything exceptional about her health two years out from the diagnosis.

    Today is a great day as Hannah Bradley is having her Hickman Line taken out. It’s been in for almost two years. She is cancer free and doing great. Thanks everyone for all the amazing support. We could not have done this without you all.

  13. #13 AnObservingParty
    October 22, 2013

    and the article promotes the idea that a positive urine test for a Clostridia metabolite means you should dose autistic children with a high-powered antibiotic to relieve their symptoms.*

    They don’t say which clostridia, of which a lot aren’t good. In fact, high does of antibiotics are known to cause Clostridium sp. overgrowth, particularly of the C. diff kind. That’s a bad time. And typically “clostridia” infection isn’t treated unless there are symptoms with it…in fact, most tests aren’t supposed to be done in the absence of diarrhea. But you know, that’s in standard, science-based medicine. Let’s put everyone on Flagyl and oral vanco! THEN we can have even more resistant microbes!

  14. #14 Tim
    October 22, 2013

    Hannah’s partner Pete Cohen has a twitter feed where he advertises himself as a weightloss “guru”…it’s full on nonsensical mottos designed to promote his business.

  15. #15 Denice Walter
    October 22, 2013

    from the Haven’s site-
    their clinical and research director has a “PhD in mindfulness”…
    Oh, don’t we all!

    -btw- in the woo-slanted article , Polly mentions ‘visualisation’- which is not to be confused with using imagery to relax, etc.

    I’ve recently come across an observer’s account on PRN about the fabled Dr Issels’ use of imagery against cancer… enhancing natural immunity by having patients imagining themselves being white knights on horseback ‘in the valley of death’ using their lances to kill black cancer cells.

    Guess it did’t work for Mr Marley. Sigh.

  16. #16 Calli Arcale
    http://fractalwonder.wordpress.com
    October 22, 2013

    I was worried I’d be judged if I went back to conventional medicine.

    Yes, it’s obvious that alternative medicine is doing a *great* job helping her feel calmer and more in control (the purpose of the “visualizations” she talks about), when she makes life-or-death decisions based on her fear of being judged by the alt-med practitioners.

    He wants to keep me on the chemo indefinitely, my husband is absolutely terrified, and my sister used to be pharmacist, so there are intense discussions going on, but I feel empowered, in control of my body.

    Why is that “empowerment” so often seems to mean little more than being contrarian? Why would she not feel empowered if she chose the route that her husband and sister were urging her to choose? It is a great feeling, knowing you are free to choose your own destiny, but you shouldn’t have to run away from home (metaphorically speaking) to figure out that you can be your own person.

  17. #17 Sastra
    October 22, 2013

    I was worried I’d be judged if I went back to conventional medicine.

    My impression was that she was worried about being “judged” by the people who told her that alt-med didn’t work. And sure enough, here we see that Orac is “judging” her.

    She was probably afraid of both sides: the “how could you betray us?” and the “told you so.” At least she was capable of letting go of her ego enough to consider the reasonable alternative again.

    Why is that “empowerment” so often seems to mean little more than being contrarian?

    Good question. I suppose it’s easier to feel like you’re taking charge if you are actually taking over from others.

  18. #18 Eric Lund
    October 22, 2013

    it could depend on what her PhD is in

    In this case, the original post describes her Ph.D. as being ““focused on ‘Holistic healing from breast cancer through the lens of hormones: Synopsis and synthesis.’” IOW, exactly the sort of woo discussed in the article, unlike Pauling, who got a bona fide Ph.D. in something else entirely. So, assuming she didn’t get that degree from Diploma Mills University, some institution thought that was a suitable topic for the substantial piece of original research expected of Ph.D. candidates.

  19. #19 Shay
    October 22, 2013

    it could depend on what her PhD is in

    Piled Higher and Deeper, from the looks of it.

  20. #20 Dangerous Bacon
    October 22, 2013

    “From the same paper today; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/wellbeing/10385871/Friends-say-Im-mad-but-I-heard-Princess-Diana.html

    “(Yup, exactly what it sounds like. With a link to buy her book at the end, too.)”

    Weirdly, her description of this other-worldly intervention makes it sound like Diana’s spirit was actively trying to kill her.

    “I set out on a course of research over some years, speaking to a wide range of cutting-edge scientists including the physicist William Tiller, who has spent more than 30 years studying consciousness at Stanford University”

    This is SOP in wootopia – conduct “research” and shop around until you find someone who seems to be confirming what you want them to. Never mind the overwhelming consensus that you’d do best to consider a course of psychotropic medication, or at the least get some healthful exercise and stop obsessing about the spirit world.

  21. #21 Fragmeister
    October 22, 2013

    Try this page of Dr Burns-Hill which gives some details of the PhD (warning woo language) http://dralyssaburns-hill.com/about/

  22. #22 Denice Walter
    October 22, 2013

    OT but are alt media honchos in-over-their-heads miming science/ psychology educations EVER truly OT @ RI?

    (@ Dangerous Bacon:

    re ‘research’ and ‘studying consciousness’)

    Never one to disappoint us, today MIkey Boy ‘splains why scientists have got everything so wrong : his post has “evolution’ in the title ( complete with chimp photo) but it covers much more ……
    AND
    IT INCLUDES his 44 minute ( count ‘em, I did) docu-drama about quantumness, consciousness and suchlike …

    It NEVER stops, does it? I imagine that I will be hearing tripe like this for the rest of my life.
    Non-existent Lord give me strength to forbear.

  23. #23 lilady
    October 22, 2013

    I went back to that article and corrected a wrongly place up arrow and posted a few comments….with links to Orac’s site.

    It was the middle of the night when I first read the testimonials and I was too bleary-eyed to “appreciate” the nonsense posted there.

  24. #24 Patrick Monk.RN.
    San Francisco
    October 22, 2013

    La plus ca change – Nothing has changed in 34 years.
    In response to your piece on Gary Null.
    La plus ca change….nothing has changed in 34 years.
    We have a long and dubious history of suppressing alternative treatments for cancer and a host of other conditions, especially in the US. This has been orchestrated by those with a vested interest in maintaining their monopoly and profits. An ongoing example of this is the denial of the actual and potential benefits of medical cannabis.
    Picture if you will….Had it not been for the collusion between robber barons and corrupt politicians almost 80 years ago we might now be living in a sustainable hemp based economy instead of this suicidal carbon based one, much pain and misery could have been prevented.
    La plus ca change. Garry Null was on point when he stated in the series “The Politics of Cancer” that the ACS should change it’s motto to, “It’s more profitable to look for a cure than to find one”.
    Patrick Monk. RN Hospice Case Manager. SF. Ca.
    Society of Cannabis Clinicians.

  25. #25 herr doktor bimler
    October 22, 2013

    the fabled Dr Issels’ use of imagery against cancer… enhancing natural immunity by having patients imagining themselves being white knights on horseback ‘in the valley of death’ using their lances to kill black cancer cells.

    Lotsa people out there don’t realise that Norman Spinrad’s story “Carcinoma Angels” was fiction.

  26. #26 Yodelady
    October 22, 2013

    Maybe what we need is some newspaper articles about Denial. I think doctors could tell some very interesting stories about patients who increase their misery and hasten their deaths by blind refusal to accept reality.

  27. #27 Calli Arcale
    October 22, 2013

    Patrick — and if you look at folks like Null, it is even more profitable to claim a cure and then sell it anyway, without all the bother and fuss of actually finding one. I also find this rather amusing:

    “Had it not been for the collusion between robber barons and corrupt politicians almost 80 years ago we might now be living in a sustainable hemp based economy instead of this suicidal carbon based one, much pain and misery could have been prevented.”

    Do you believe hemp to not be a carbon-based lifeform, then, or do you think burning hemp for our energy needs would a) be sufficient to replace coal and b) somehow non polluting? (Hint: anything you burn is polluting, regardless of how fashionable the feedstock is.)

  28. #28 Denice Walter
    October 22, 2013

    * La plus ca change*

    Right, Null is spouting the same poppycock he has been for decades. Data-free poppycock -btw-. But he doesn’t work for free.

    Whilst our friend from SF proselytisers against profiteering in SBM, I suggest he take a peek ( actually several) at Mr Null’s living arrangements as profusely illustrated at Gary Null.com ( see retreat, 2013/ picasa photos Paradise Gardens grounds, etc / or peruse manta.com or spoke.com for annual sales figures) :
    he doesn’t exactly live like a monk.

  29. #29 Denice Walter
    October 22, 2013

    PROSELYTISES

  30. #30 Marry Me, Mindy
    October 22, 2013

    Eric Lund (#9) – I looked up Alyssa Burns-Hill in the Dissertations database. I admit that I am not perfect in searching it, but I could not find a PhD thesis deposited there. However, all that could mean is that she didn’t do her PhD in the US, which is very possible.

  31. #31 Krebiozen
    October 22, 2013

    Patrick,

    La plus ca change. Garry Null was on point when he stated in the series “The Politics of Cancer” that the ACS should change it’s motto to, “It’s more profitable to look for a cure than to find one”.

    That’s a cute buzzline, but it’s nonsense. A drug company tthat finds a more effective treatment for a common cancer than those currently in use would make billions, and possibly put some of their competitors out of business. There is no monolithic ‘Big Pharma, just hundreds of competititive companies, all ready and willing to cut each other’s corporate throats.

    There is no hidden, suppressed cure for cancer (if there is, name it), just some nonsense touted by those out to make money out of the gullible, like Gary Null for example. He’s a glorified vitamin pill salesman who, for all his criticism of conventional medicine, has nothing to offer that can help anyone with cancer.

    If you had leukemia, what would you do? Use cannabis, or supplements? Or see a real oncologist who would probably prescribe some chemotherapy that would very likely save your life? I know what I would do (though I might welll use cannabis to alleviate any nausea from the chemo).

  32. #32 lilady
    October 22, 2013

    @ Patrick Monk RN:

    From your group, the Society of Cannabis Clinicians:

    http://cannabisclinicians.org/casereports/cancer-childhood-neuroblastoma-complete-remission/

    Could you possibly provide a PubMed link to this case study which claims that a patient experienced complete remission of his neuroblastoma, after using cannabis for four years? Thanks.

    lilady, RN, Bsc-Nursing

  33. #33 Dangerous Bacon
    October 22, 2013

    Another thought about that woman who hears Princess Diana speaking to her from the spirit world and wrote a book about her experience:

    You think it would sell as well if the person contacting her from the great beyond was Nayyer the Pakistani cab driver?

  34. #34 lilady
    October 22, 2013

    @ Patrick Monk RN

    What a coincidence that the founder (Tod Mikariya), of your group, The Society of Cannabis Clinicians, is the psychiatrist who provided that case study about the cure of neuroblastoma by cannabis therapy:

    “The Society of Cannabis Clinicians (SCC) was formed as a project of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group (CCRMG) in the Autumn of 2004 by the member physicians of the CCRMG to aid in the promulgation of voluntary standards for clinicians engaged in the recommendation and approval of cannabis under California law (HSC §11362.5).The CCRMG was founded by Tod Mikuriya, MD in 1999, to enable doctors who have been monitoring their patients’ cannabis use to share data and observations. Our primary goals are the same as the stated goals of any reputable scientific endeavour: to bring out findings that are accurate, duplicable, and useful to the community at large. But in order to do this, we have to pursue parallel goals such as removing the impediments to clinical research created by Prohibition, and educating our colleagues, co-workers and patients as we educate ourselves about the medical uses of cannabis.”

    Here’s the Wikipedia entry on Tod Mikuriya…no surprise there that he was a Libertarian and he died from cancer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tod_H._Mikuriya

    And, that link to Tod Mikuriya’s published case study about the cannabis treatment for complete remission of a neuroblastoma, Patrick? I’m still waiting.

  35. #35 Narad
    October 22, 2013

    what institution granted her a Ph.D. anyway?

    Her LinkedIn profile specifies the sum total of her education to be the responsibility of Bath Spa University. Given their history as an art and design school, the Web site is quite the train wreck, but once found, the repository has nothing from her. Neither does ethos.bl.uk.

  36. #36 Mark McAndrew
    October 22, 2013

    Letter to the editor sent. For the record:

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Anna Moore’s appalling article about four women attempting assorted quack cancer therapies was the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever seen in a UK national daily. Quite simply, people who follow that advice – or, in the case of Sally and Neon Roberts, unfortunate children whose gullible parents follow that advice – will die.

    On a more significant note from a journalistic perspective, Ms Moore has also egregiously misled your readers.

    Two of the women featured (Alyssa Burns-Hill and Polly Noble) were not, as the article implied, just members of the public. In fact, they make a living selling the very same quack therapies they endorsed in this article.

    Anna Moore was either unaware of this and was hoodwinked, or she was fully aware and was lying by omission. Either way, the article was a glorified advert and utterly shameful.

    In the words of a genuine oncologist and breast cancer surgeon, Dr David Gorski MD, “She [Anna Moore] wrote nothing less than a promotional article touting cancer quackery, and The Telegraph, in a fit of irresponsibility, published it.”

    That same (real) doctor has posted an extensive and scathing rebuttal on a National Geographic blog called Respectful Insolence. I would urge you to read it: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2013/10/22/four-misleading-cancer-testimonials-and-reverse-balance/

    Seriously, folks – you may as well post articles featuring people who believe beating children cures them of witchcraft.

  37. #37 Denice Walter
    October 22, 2013

    Oh cripes not another friggin’ woo** from Bath!

    ** AJW- lived there, not that u.

  38. #38 AntipodeanChic
    On (a fruit-based) Lunch Break
    October 22, 2013

    @Yodelady #26
    I think you make an excellent point regarding Denial & alternative cures. Even if untested and beyond proof, people are far more likely to believe that a “nutrition-based” woo works simply if it is unpalatable, difficult/expensive to source and labour intensive. [After all, doesn't ALL "medicine" taste revolting?!?]

    A dear family friend of mine has followed this “low pH” c*** as a way to “soften the edges around” her chemo.
    When I was first told enthusiastically & solemnly about this (amid much talk of “how much of a sacrifice it is”) – I merely asked how it worked, only to hear the same quote about “softening the edged of the chemo” over & over again.
    Unfortunately, I fail to see how being ripped off (even if a Health Fund is subsidizing the Naturopath) and eating unpalatable food is being “personally empowered”.

  39. #39 Khani
    October 22, 2013

    #26 Would they tell the stories, though? Wouldn’t they be worried that some trait would be recognizable, the patient would be outed and they’d be in big, big HIPAA-flavored trouble?

    Doctors don’t like to take that kind of risk, normally.

  40. #40 AntipodeanChic
    October 22, 2013

    *edges

  41. #41 AntipodeanChic
    October 22, 2013

    #38 You are probably right…

    Although soon, there may be enough cases of this phenomenon to render individual cases unremarkable.

  42. #42 Militant Agnostic
    Where the deer, but not the antelope play
    October 22, 2013

    Sophia*

    And it is indeed a charity; Prince Charles is a patron.

    Never a good sign.

    HDB

    Lotsa people out there don’t realise that Norman Spinrad’s story “Carcinoma Angels” was fiction.

    As I recall, it did not end well either – the protagonist could not get back out of his visualization after defeating the cancer.

  43. #43 MadisonMD
    October 22, 2013

    though I might welll use cannabis to alleviate any nausea from the chemo

    Sorry Krebs. You are usually right but not on this one. Maybe it’ll give you munchies, but it’s not an effective antiemetic for chemotherapy-induced nausea. (At least no better than metoclopramide which is lousy) You’d want a 5-HT3 inhibitor plus dexamethasone and perhaps aprepitant.

    The way I see it: if someone wants to smoke pot, go nuts. If you think it should be legal, sure whatever. If chemo is how you justify using it yourself, fine. But lets not bother pretending its medically useful for chemotherapy-induced nausea.

    @24

    Had it not been for the collusion between robber barons and corrupt politicians almost 80 years ago we might now be living in a sustainable hemp based economy instead of this suicidal carbon based one, much pain and misery could have been prevented.

    That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while. Hope you and Cheech and Chong were able to get home from work and fire up your lights and computer with sustainable hemp. It is a nice utopian vision….. Um, you are joking right?

  44. #44 Sasha
    New york
    October 23, 2013
  45. #45 AntipodeanChic
    October 23, 2013

    Apologies @ Khani #39, not #38: I seem to be having trouble typing (& proof-reading today). Best for me to shut up, I think…

  46. #46 dreamer
    October 23, 2013

    OT, but this is sobering — voices of reason like Orac are so rare, in face of widespread gullibility –
    In case you missed it, Oct. 7–13 was designated Naturopathic Medicine Week, according to a Senate resolution sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski and passed by the Senate with unanimous consent. Mikulski and the rest of the Senate may be surprised to learn that they were repeating 60-year-old justifications of Chinese medicine put forward by Chairman Mao. Unlike Mikulski, however, Mao was under no illusion that Chinese medicine—a key component of naturopathic education—actually worked.
    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/10/traditional_chinese_medicine_origins_mao_invented_it_but_didn_t_believe.html

  47. #47 sophia8
    October 23, 2013

    I have so far failed to discover where Dr “I-am-not-a-medical-doctor” Burns-Hill got her PhD from; neither is there a trace of her thesis on the web.
    And yet, despite the lack of any medical qualifications, she flaunts her claimed “20 years of research into health” and runs clinics where she advises actual patients with actual medical problems. No doubt she has some kind of legal arse-covering, but it is still deeply unethical.

  48. #48 Dangerous Bacon
    October 23, 2013

    “And yet, despite the lack of any medical qualifications, she flaunts her claimed “20 years of research into health”

    In general, I believe there should be an appropriate penalty for people who misuse the term “research” when what they really mean is “I read a book by a nitwit”, “I talked to a bunch of people who should really be on psychotropic medications” or “I Googled like mad to find lots of websites that agree with me!”.

    Maybe a day in the stocks being laughed at would suffice.

  49. #49 Mark McAndrew
    October 23, 2013

    Orac, you might want to ditch Sasha’s spam link? Her ‘cancer site’ is typical woo-filled BS.

  50. #50 Edith Prickly
    October 23, 2013

    Update: Squidymus the Burzynski fanboi has now invaded the Telegraph comment thread. Cranks never sleep…

  51. #51 Calli Arcale
    October 23, 2013

    sophia8:

    I have so far failed to discover where Dr “I-am-not-a-medical-doctor” Burns-Hill got her PhD from; neither is there a trace of her thesis on the web.

    I’m guessing hers is not a Doctor of Philosophy but rather a Piled Higher and Deeper, obtained from a diploma mill and not someplace with any real accreditation.

    Meanwhile, I fully believe she has done 20 years of research, in the sense that a lot of people think reading articles in publications commonly found in the supermarket checkout aisle or websites located via Google constitute “research”.

  52. #52 Wesley Dodson
    October 23, 2013

    Hard to understand what is “holistic” about a grab-bag of supplements and arbitrary treatments.

  53. #53 Mark McAndrew
    October 23, 2013

    Diddy has been taken care of – mainly by himself. He’s like a child with a new spambot program.

    I lost count after 12 of his postings with the same link to “Didymus Judas Thomas’ Hipocritical (sic) Oath Blog” with the subtitle “Stanislaw Rajmund Burzynski, Stanislaw R. Burzynski, Stanislaw Burzynski, Stan R. Burzynski, Stan Burzynski, S. R. BURZYNSKI, S. Burzynski, Arthur Burzynski”

    Meanwhile, he also screamed that three postings of a link to this page were more than the dozen he’d done. It’s like another reality with these people.

  54. #54 Shay
    October 23, 2013

    Maybe a day in the stocks being laughed at would suffice.

    It’s time to bring back ducking stools, say I.

  55. #55 Edith Prickly
    October 23, 2013

    Funny thing – comments are disappearing or going into moderation over there. My comment to DiddlySquat that linked to Orac’s post on Christina Lanzoni’s death got deleted. Someone must be doing an (inept) clean-up job on the thread. it’s mostly Squiddles’ nonsense that’s being targeted, so I’ll accept being collateral damage for the greater good.

    And not surprisingly, no comments yet from the article’s author about why she chose not to mention that Polly Noble and Alyssa Burns-Hill have financial interests in alt-med “treatments.”

  56. #56 TBruce
    October 23, 2013

    Hard to understand what is “holistic” about a grab-bag of supplements and arbitrary treatments.

    About 25 years ago, I had an exchange of letters with the head of the Canadian Holistic Medical Association about this very issue. I asked why unproven alternative medicine was considered “holistic medicine”. His answer was that they were researching this. 25 years later, I’m still waiting for the results of this research.

  57. #57 lilady
    October 23, 2013

    The comments are now closed on that article. Mark McAndrew’s comment about one hour ago appears to be the last one posted.

    Most of DJT’s comments have been removed.

  58. #58 Mark McAndrew
    October 23, 2013

    Dids got the hammer, either for spamming or maybe for just being a moron. So that was about 25 posts deleted, plus most of my responses to him, which were rendered superfluous.

    I lost one post for insulting the Sandragon, a couple more for duplicating (I think). But a good few more that went should have been left up, eg. the quote about how skeptics are all gay atheist pedos (!) from Bolen’s blog (he does say it, was a direct quote), me pointing out the final commenter runs a homeopathy website, or that Burz kills most of his patients (my first post, I think).

    From the look of it, the moderator started culling everyone quite hard, then got the gist of the demented opposition and cut us some slack. Anyway, it’s done.

    I’ll still cheerfully punch Tim Bolen into next week if I ever see him, tho… :)

  59. #60 Christine (the Public Servant Christine)
    October 23, 2013

    I think the reason woo-meisters ignore the very real role diet plays in SBM, is because SBM dietitians ignore or actively debunk woo diets.

    A case in point: another of my work colleagues has recently returned to work after leukaemia treatment. The raw food vegan nut colleague plied her with information about how she could “detoxify” and “cleanse the remains of the poison” with raw food and juices. The dietitian who worked with the leukaemia sufferer during her cancer treatment told her: listen to your body, and eat what you want (within reason). Translation: if you feel like a burger and chips and you know it’s not going to make you nauseous, EAT the burger and chips. And eat some salad veges with it.

    Of course, this advice is anathema to woo.

  60. #61 AntipodeanChic
    October 23, 2013

    @ Christine,

    Just wondering: has anyone you know ever managed to explain (to your satisfaction) the process by which pH/raw food & juicing diets work in the context of disease reduction? Or are at least supposed to?

    No, I’m not being completely facetious…

  61. #62 Christine (the Public Servant Christine)
    October 24, 2013

    AntipodeanChic: the idea is, any “processing” of food reduces its natural nutrients. This includes cooking – you cook food, you make it less nutritious. And this also applies to processes like pasteurisation of milk. No, really. Raw milk is way better for everyone because pasteurisation destroys all the “good bacteria” in milk. Listeria doesn’t exist in woo-land.

    The one process that’s “good” is juicing. See, our bodies have to work really, really hard to digest everything, and liquids are easiest for the body to absorb, so rendering our vegetables to a liquid state means all those lovely nutrients are absorbed immediately. At least in woo-land.

    I suffer from inflammatory bowel disease and fibromyalgia, two conditions that attract food-woo at least as much as cancer. I know far more about food-woo than I care to. Give me properly accredited dietitians and clinical nutritionists any day.

  62. #63 AntipodeanChic
    October 24, 2013

    Christine: Aha! That certainly does tally with what I’ve been told by raw food zealots. I too have been told a LOT more about food-woo in my time than I’ve cared for!
    The most recent fad about which I’ve had a “heated discussion” with someone was the Alkaline Diet Woo. Ask the person their rationale for believing that eating an “alkaline” diet will treat cancer/ameliorate side effects of chemotherapy/aid weight loss/whatever – given that the body balances its own pH (exceptional circumstances such as metabolic acidosis aside), and all you will hear is a repetition of the original statement regarding the diet. Whatever that happened to be…

    I’m with you about dietitians :)

  63. #64 Mark McAndrew
    October 24, 2013

    You need killer arguments that people can understand immediately.

    eg. I explain that the alkaline diet thing is all from one single quack; Robert O Young (that helps – many people think it’s better supported), and that the obvious reason it’s total bollocks is that your stomach is full of acid! Nothing alkaline gets past.

    Also, if alkaline did help in any way, you could just take a daily alka-seltzer…

    As for the raw food idiots, their main argument is the “cooking destroys the enzymes”. Point one: you don’t need them – your body makes all the enzymes it needs. Point two: enzymes in food are destroyed in the stomach anyway. Cooked or raw, enzymes don’t make it.

    It’s true that cooking/processing makes stuff easier to digest, so raw food doesn’t supply as many calories as its cooked counterpart because the body has to expend more energy breaking it down. So it helps if you’re dieting.

    It also commonly stops menstruation in female devotees because they’re not getting enough nutrition to get pregnant safely. Still, good old Darwin… ;)

  64. #65 Mark McAndrew
    October 24, 2013

    A few more comments have been deleted by the Telegraph, for no apparent reason. For example, Sandragon’s eventual (and truly risible) explanation of her shenanigans on Skepticat is left as the last word on the matter.

    Which is odd, as she’s making quite a nasty accusation of the very same sort of dirty tricks that she was, in fact, guilty of. Skepticat’s reply was important. As was mine.

    I suspect she’s clicking the ‘report this comment’ flags. Well, two can play at that game…

    In better news, they’re in touch with me and will be allowing a right of reply to that article.

  65. #66 Denice Walter
    October 24, 2013

    Many woo-meisters, in the throes of advanced Gaia-worship, teach that phytochemicals in foods serve not only nutritional needs but as PREVENTION and CURES for serious illnesses and work BETTER than pharmaceuticals expressly designed for those purposes.. wooful websites are rife with this theme.

    Only natural foods, barely touched by humans, will suffice because cooking and other processes tamper with their divine earthly goodness- “juicing’ allows this to flow unrestricted, unimpeded by cell walls – from Terra’s living essential circulation into your own. After all, isn’t chlorophyll the Prime Life Essence and purveyor of Instant Mana itself? Other phytochemicals can be extracted and sold as pharma- substututes as well- grape seed extract, pycnogenol, proanthocyanidins, anthocyanidins, I3C, isoflavones… the list is nearly endless.

    Oddly, they don’t think of extracting, isolating and packaging these chemicals as processing. I wonder why?

  66. #67 AntipodeanChic
    October 24, 2013

    @ Mark McAndrew

    Thanks! Especially for this nugget:
    “It also commonly stops menstruation in female devotees because they’re not getting enough nutrition to get pregnant safely. Still, good old Darwin… ;)

    The biggest Raw Food Woo follower I personally know is literally as ‘Mad as a meat-axe’, (duh!) to use the ironic local parlance. She also feels Nature’s Clock a’tickin from what I understand, so you can imagine my relief…

  67. #68 Christine (the Public Servant Christine)
    October 24, 2013

    @Mark McAndrew: thanks for the reminder about the enzymes – clean forgot about the enzymes! And here, I feel, we have the main difference between food-wooers and people who’ve actually done proper clinical training and research. Enzymes DO have an important role to play in metabolism, so if you can boost the enzymes in the body you will improve your metabolism ecetera. Too bad the enzymes in raw food aren’t absorbed the way woo-meisters think they are…

    @Denise – I’ve often wondered why woo processing is somehow better than pharmaceutical processing too.

  68. #69 Christine (the Public Servant Christine)
    October 24, 2013

    Incidentally, has anyone noticed how many of these raw food diets extol the benefits of eating/juicing vast quantities of RAW spinach, kale and silverbeet? I can’t help wondering whether their followers are setting themselves up for terrible kidney stones because of all that oxalic acid.

  69. #70 Mark McAndrew
    United Kingdom
    October 25, 2013

    Cooked vs Raw: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2011/12/08/why-calorie-counts-are-wrong-cooked-food-provides-a-lot-more-energy/#.UmntXfl03yk

    Note that those precious enzymes actually work better on cooked food.

    Antipodean – check out the second comment. Quite relevant to your friend.

    Can’t help but observe that the cooking of food basically made early humans smarter and more fertile – and now the non-cooking of food is making some modern humans sterile and thick. Progress…? *sigh*

  70. #71 AntipodeanChic
    Australia
    October 25, 2013

    Yes, the second comment is quite relevant to my “friend” (now) – but I’m not going to be the one to try to break the news to her… Like a certain Frazer Kirkman in the comments section of that illuminating article, she has more than a touch of the Raw Food Religionzz! Actually, reading the comments was pretty interesting. I love how vehemently the raw foodies defended their Woo, including some not even being willing to concede that scientists who’d studied the area in detail for years might happen to know more about it than they. “Hey, man – like I happen to just KNOW like, literally thousands of women who are fertile and never eat non-raw food”.

    I personally thought the facts that cooking food made early humans smarter, more fertile & is still safer & more likely to provide adequate nutrition were self-evident too. I doubted early humans were utilizing fire just to scare other animals away at night & keep warm whilst living in the Rift Valley!

    I acknowledge, of course, that I could be mistaken. :)

  71. #72 herr doktor bimler
    October 25, 2013

    the facts that cooking food made early humans smarter, more fertile & is still safer & more likely to provide adequate nutrition were self-evident too

    Good luck eating cassava without processing.

  72. #78 Christine (the Public Servant Christine)
    October 25, 2013

    Humans got along quite well for centuries without raw food quackery and juicing. Yes, life expectancy was much lower, and yes some historical diets were dreadful, but the main causes of death were infection and disease, not poor nutrition.

  73. #82 AntipodeanChic
    October 25, 2013

    hdb: Will anyone who tries to eat “raw” cassava die with a rictus-like grin from the cyanide metabolites? Maybe that’s just an urban myth…

  74. […] Four misleading cancer testimonials and “reverse balance” Orac, Respectful Insolence, 22/10/13 […]

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