Warning: This Daily Express story could ‘potentially cause harm to people with cancer’
THE Daily Express has a question: “DO CANCER ALTERNATIVES REALLY WORK?”
Well, if alternatives did work surely people suffering from the hideous disease would use them, no? Or is the medical profession so stubbon and stupid that it does not consider alternative “remedies” in the face of proof that they work? Jane Warren reports:
THE YOUNG mother who disappeared with her seven-year- old son to prevent him receiving cancer treatment for a brain tumour was motivated by an understandable desire not to see him suffer any more than he needs to, says the seven-year-old boy’s father.
After a frantic nationwide search both Neon and Sally Roberts have now been found and the youngster has been temporarily placed in protective care and will be given the emergency treatment he needs.
Neon? His mum and dad called him Neon?!
Although Sally and her estranged husband Ben differ in their beliefs about the best treatment for their son – Ben wants him to receive the urgent radiotherapy that doctors insist he needs, while Sally wants to rely on natural remedies – they are united in their belief that they are each doing the best for their child.
There are dangers associated with radiotherapy in such a young child (in rare cases it can lead to a loss of sight and learning difficulties) but it is a recognised medical treatment.
However a growing number of practitioners believe complementary therapies (those offered in conjunction with traditional medicine) can be a useful adjunct to treatment and that some approaches can even help to prevent
Cue Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill PhD, “a hormone and holistic health specialist with clinics in Harley Street and Jersey, treated her own breast cancer using holistic therapies following surgery to remove her tumour.”
She goes on to debate the benefits of
DIET THE THEORY:
OUR EXPERT SAYS: “Having a balanced and sensible approach to your diet will make a profound difference to your body’s ability to prevent cancer.
…Also, treat sugar as a delicacy. We all get cancer a number of times in our lives but normally the immune system handles it while it is still microscopic.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STRESS THE THEORY:
OUR EXPERT SAYS:
Unfortunately medicine doesn’t consider stress as a factor in cancer, which is why a lot of people look to complementary approaches to reduce stress and support healing.”
THE THEORY: This controversial regime is an alternative treatment, involving 13 juices a day, coffee enemas and vitamin jabs. It works on the principle of detoxifying the liver, believing cancer is a symptom of a diseased body in which tumours form when the liver and other organs are out of balance.
OUR EXPERT SAYS: “I was on a 21st-century version of Gerson called Plaskett Therapy. It is a very hard regime to follow and is controversial because it is alternative, not complementary. Success is difficult to quantify as many people turn to Gerson as a last resort .”
HOMEOPATHY THE THEORY:
OUR EXPERT SAYS: “ This is often disregarded because it works in a different way to conventional medicine.
It looks past the symptoms to consider the whole person.”
At no point in this article about cancer and the fear it induces in victims does the Express note that Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill, PhD, MSc, FRSPH, MIHPE is not a medical doctor. On her website, on the seventh paragraph of her “about” page, she notes:
For absolute clarity – I am not a medical doctor.
You might suppose woman proud of her health qualifications would train as medial doctor as well, and, as result, be even better able to compare and contrast cancer treatment. You might suppose that the Express would get the opinion of another “expert”, this one an actual medial doctors, to talk about cancer treatments.
Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill mentions her lack of medical doctor qualifications in line with an ASA ruling:
We told DBH to ensure that she held adequate substantiation for her claims in future, and to ensure she stated that she was not a medically qualified doctor in a clear and prominent qualification positioned close to the first reference to the title Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill PhD.
Cancer Research wrote to the Express:
We were concerned to see an article in the Daily Express today asking “Do cancer alternatives really work?” This piece contains factual and scientific inaccuracies, as well as misleading information that could potentially cause harm to people with cancer. We have written a short letter to the Express with our concerns (Edit: which they have declined to publish – see end of post KA), and wanted to address the claims made in the article in full here.
We completely understand that people would like to try everything to help themselves after a diagnosis of cancer, but strongly urge any patient considering complementary or alternative therapy to talk to their cancer doctor or specialist nurse about the safety and effectiveness of such treatments. Some are not safe and can cause serious side effects.
Furthermore, we spend a great deal of time and money doing research to find out what treatments work best (or don’t work) for people with cancer. It is disheartening to see health advice or even therapies being recommended with very little or no evidence to show that they have any benefit for patients.
To highlight specific flaws in this article:
Diet: The article makes claims for the cancer-fighting properties of a number of foods, including avocados, garlic, tomatoes and beetroot (which has apparently “been shown to kill cancer cells”) and also mentions the power of “antioxidants”. While we would agree that it’s important for everyone – including cancer patients – to eat a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables where possible, there is no good evidence to suggest that any particular foodstuff can really treat cancer. The writer makes the mistake of using evidence from experiments with purified vegetable extracts carried out on cells grown in the laboratory to suggest that certain fruits or vegetables can treat cancer in patients. This is not a plausible link. We’ve addressed this issue several times on the blog, including here and here, and have also taken an in-depth look at antioxidants and cancer in two parts.
Sugar: The article claims that eating a lot of sugar is “feeding any cancer cells”. This is an unhelpful oversimplification of a highly complex area that researchers are only just starting to understand. All our cells, cancerous or not, use sugar for energy which is obtained from all sorts of food. We recommend that cancer patients and the general public limit sugary foods as part of an overall healthy diet, but it’s not clear that eating sugary foods specifically “feeds” cancer cells. It’s important that cancer patients discuss their diet with their doctor or specialist nurse before making any big changes – for example, some people may be advised to have a high-calorie diet during chemotherapy to help cope with the effects of treatment.
Stress: The article claims that “stress is a factor in cancer” that has been “scientifically substantiated”. This is a bold overstatement of the current state of research in this area. Many people believe that stress can cause cancer, particularly breast cancer. But the evidence for this is lacking. Stressful events can alter the levels of hormones in the body and affect the immune system. But there is no evidence that these changes could lead to cancer. Most scientific studies have found that stress does not increase the risk of cancer. One study even found that high stress levels can reduce the risk of breast cancer, by lowering oestrogen levels. Even in the event that stress and cancer are linked, the effects would be very small compared to other factors such as smoking, age or family history.
Gerson treatment: Although the article states that Gerson therapy is controversial, it fails to mention that there is absolutely no solid scientific evidence to show that Gerson therapy can treat cancer, and that it can be very harmful to a patient’s health. Coffee enemas have been linked to serious infections, dehydration, constipation, colitis (inflammation of the colon), and dangerous electrolyte imbalances or even death. The information on Gerson therapy in the article is misleading, inaccurate and potentially harmful for cancer patients.
Homeopathy: The article states that homeopathy “is often disregarded because it works in a different way to conventional medicine.” The reality is that there is no solid medical evidence to prove that homeopathy can treat cancer. The way in which homeopathy is proposed to work – by diluting substances to the point where not a single molecule of the active ingredient is present – is not based in scientific fact, and it is widely accepted that the alleged benefits of homeopathy for cancer patients (such as relieving anxiety, depression, pain or nausea) are the result of the placebo effect.
Such are the facts.