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Sunday, October 30, 2011


Alternative Medicine in the Adelaide Advertiser

One of the fundamental principles of medical therapy in Australia and most other western nations is that an adult of sound mind should be able to chose their own therapy, or choose to forgo therapy completely. To make these choices, people need access to the best available information. However, when it comes to complementary/alternative medicine this information often gives a false sense of the effectiveness of CAM therapies.

Nowhere is this more true than in cancer therapy. Cancer and it's treatment is a very emotive issue. Having lost several family members to cancer, including my greatly loved mother-in-law, I've experienced some of this first hand. Unfortunately, an article in this Saturdays Advertiser, "Why a brave mum said no to chemotherapy", gives a very misleading idea of the effectiveness of alternative cancer therapies, which could potentially endanger lives.

I don't want to denigrate the experience of the author and her mother, but in trying to explain why her mother chose alternative medicine, a lot of factually incorrect or misleading information is presented by the author.

It starts early on with this piece:
It's interesting to note that when an alternative cancer treatment fails, the practitioner is denounced as a charlatan. But when conventional treatment fails and research shows it fails 75 per cent of the time, we assume "it was their time" and that the doctors "did their best".
What research is this that shows conventional treatment fails 75 percent of the time? For which cancers? For uterine cancer, 81% of patients will survive 5 or more years, for ovarian cancer it's a more sobering 40% survival. As the authors mother had ovarian/uterine cancer presumably she was talking about ovarian cancer (which as a much better survival rate than the 25% stated), but the way this piece is written it suggests that this is true for all cancers. For cervical cancer the survival rate is 65%, for breast cancer the survival rates on average are around 88%, you can get a good overview of cancer survival in Australia here.

On the other hand the success of alternative medicine in treating cancer is the same as if you had been treating cancer with sugar pills. This is why alternative medicine practitioners are called charlatans, because they provide treatments that have either been shown not to work, or have no good evidence that they work.

An example is the Gerson Therapy, lauded in this article. A punishing regime of strict diet, vitamin supplementation and coffee enemas, it doesn't work, and has significant risks of side effects (some more information on how shonky it is here). The Gonzalez protocol, based on the Gerson therapy doesn't work either. Oh, you can certainly get testimonials, but these are subject to selection bias, recall bias and without adequate controls on diagnosis and follow up, you have no idea what is happening. And of course the alternative medicine people never publish testimonials like this.

Coffee enemas are part of the protocol:
There were plenty of jokes about Mum going upstairs to have a "crappuccino", but the aim of the coffee enema is to detoxify the liver, which many believe is the most important organ for cancer recovery.
Except this is absolute rubbish, the enemas do nothing what so ever to the liver (which contrary to alt-med belief are not massive stores of toxins). Pumping coffee into your intestine might stimulate the intestine to contact a bit more, but this will do nothing to affect the mutant, out-of-control rapidly growing cells that are cancer (or "cleanse" the blood). The bowel seems to be a fixation for alt-med, but the whole idea that the colon needs to be "cleansed" is a myth.

Then there is the vitamin C infusions: .
..up to 75,000mg intravenously every week. To give you some idea of how much vitamin C we're talking, the RDA is 80mg. The treatment may sound crazy, but it's hard to argue with the evidence.
And the evidence is that it doesn't work. Proper controlled trials of vitamin C therapy have shown no benefit (as opposed to Linus Paulings shambolic attempts which didn't include proper controls). Sure if you put enormous quantities of vitamin C on cancer cells in culture dishes you will kill them, so will extract of old boots (in my day job I do experiments with cancer cells, so I am aware of the pitfalls of this kind of experiment). These tissue culture experiments don't reflect what would happen in a real clinical situation.

So the author's mum is taking potentially dangerous treatment with no proven benefit. Wait, you are saying, surely vitamins aren't harmful. At that level they are, with the potential to cause renal disease. Supplemental vitamins, above what is necessary to prevent vitamin defficenacy, have been linked to adverse our comes (see here and here).

Oh yes, and Black Salve is not a cancer specific curing agent, it's a generalised corrosive agent.

The author reminds us that cancer treatment is big business for pharmaceutical companies, giving the impression that alternative medicine is all warm and fuzzy. Make no mistake, alternative medicine itself is big business, in 2004 Australians spent 4 times the public expenditure on the PBS on alternative therapies.

"Why poison yourself with something you don't believe in?" was Mum's answer to the inevitable chemo question. But some people really do believe in the power of chemotherapy, and for those people having chemo is the right thing to do.
This, I think cuts to the heart of everything, it's all about belief. So instead of poisoning themselves with things they don't believe in they will poison themselves with things they do believe in. Yet cancer doesn't care what you believe in, and neither does chemotherapy, it works or it doesn't regardless of your belief in it.

The author has claimed to have used her journalistic experience to study cancer therapy, but it doesn't take much to discover that the therapies portrayed in the article are not only useless, but potentially harmful. As such this is grave disservice to those cancer sufferers and their families considering treatment options.

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Well said Ian.. a thoroughly well thought rebuff of the tripe promulgated in that article. Thanks for taking the time to articulate it so well.

Sometimes the papers publish sense and sometimes they don't.
I've got a friend telling me that vegetables don't have enough nutrients nowadays and you have to take the vitamin supplements, but not the ones made from nasty chemicals. Woo !
With regard to the supporting links to your argument, how do you know these are sufficiently well-informed sources that adequately speak to the effectiveness of the aforementioned cancer treatments? I think it is important to recognize the sources of information and what would motivate them to say what they say... Medical studies are distinguished in different doctor specializations and this is why we can't go to a general practitioner and ask anything and everything, and why people are often referred to specialists. The specialist of holistic medicine is a naturopath. I would like to see what a naturopathic source has to say about what alternative cancer treatments don't work. Frankly, many of the science and medicine blogs have questionable sources. It is a fact that medical schools are greatly funded by pharmaceutical companies. With this in mind, I consider sources and their motivation for discussing treatments and their effectiveness.
JIB: the scientific and health information in newspapers ranges wildly from sensible to stupid, often in the same edition. The idea that vegetables don't have enough nutrients is too dumb for words.
Ian you speak like we speak on this topic - except we see alt/med deaths in patients who came too late to or clinic
We'd love to chat more with you
PLEASE send an email to us director at grace gawler dot com
Ian I sent this reply to Laura Bond on her blog
Hello Laura, I appreciate the effort you are making on behalf of your mum. I quickly scanned all of your blogs and have heard of many of the people and treatments you mention. Alternative leaning most of my life since I had a surfer's health food shop in Torquay in 1972, I'm now a director of The Grace Gawler Institute for Integrated Cancer Solutions on the Gold Coast.
My alt/med views have changed in the last 4.5 years helping Grace Gawler in her work with cancer patients. For nearly 4 decades Grace has devoted her life to helping patients. She was a full time care giver to a patient with bone cancer (still alive) and helped 13,000+ more build survival strategies and make RATIONAL CHOICES.
Due to your enthusiasm I urge you not to brush off what I'm about to say - please. Your mum’s life may depend on it.
In our work we get to see 1000s of patients trialling all many of alt/med - some spending over $150,000, on every known alt/med treatment - all you have mentioned in your blogs and more. From patients coming too late to our clinic and from reports from collegiate oncologists and surgeons here and overseas, we believe there is an unreported tsunami of alt/med casualties, just like Penny Dingle featured on the ABC.
Although a trained naturopath, herbalist and body psychotherapist, Grace has not seen the results touted on the internet in her very large sample group of patients. Much of our work is encouraging them back into the 'top end' of mainstream med while supporting with proven complementary med.
Our institute's sole existence is to help cancer patients survive. I am shocked at the dysfunction and deception at both ends - alt/med and conventional. That being said tremendous advances and high success rates are being achieved when one employs a best of both worlds approach - with the emphasis on 'best'
Laura I urge you to ring or email Grace and at least talk to her and sound her out. We’re very busy – we work 24/7, but have taken time to write because we don't want your mum to end up another alt/med casualty like we see each week.
By the way on Thurs and Frid this week ( Nov 3.4) , we are hosting an event with one of the world's leading oncologists from Germany who uses top end conventional with top end PROVEN complementary – we work closely with people like her and others in Australia who get proveable results
Laura I'm sorry if I go against the stream of your blogs but can only report what I see - what Grace has seen for 37 years. For example Grace has seen NO positive results from patients who went to Gerson, some very bad results from people using black salve, ruined metabolisms from too many supplements of too much juice, food guilt and food stress that are counterproductive to healing.
Grace is just interrupting her day to pen a long reply to the Adelaide Now article about you and your mum. Laura we believe people such as yourself have a moral duty not to encourage people into alt/med – which we believe will cause much pain and death. I say this without blame because some years ago I could have written as you have. But deaths from good intention are still deaths at the end of the day. I have written extensively on this if you Google me and ‘cancer mistakes’
We urge you to use the ‘best of both worlds’ approach. But you can do better than that as the front page on our website explains our philosophy clearly.
Grace and I have many blogs so please Google us and we hope to hear from you soon – I realise I may have just turned your world upside down
Pip Cornall
Anonymous wrote:how do you know these are sufficiently well-informed sources that adequately speak to the effectiveness of the aforementioned cancer treatments?

Long experiences with the sources, and my own familiarity with the area. I've been in research for 25 years, I've worked directly in clinical research for 6, and although in basic research (mostly on oxidative stress, where vitamin come in) I work closely with a group researching anti-cancer drugs.

So I'm familiar with research on drugs and drug treatments, and how research is done. Where I give links to sources that are not peer-reviewed (because they are behind paywalls and not generally avialable), or or official summaries from the peer-reviewed literature, it's to people I know and trust to fairly represent the literature (or where I don't have to re-invent the wheel, like Kimbal Atwood's discussion of expectation bias).

The ultimate source is the peer-reviewed literature, which looks at actual clinical and laboratory research.
Pip: I'll get in contact tomorrow.
Even though I stumbled upon this blog by accident I read it and all the comments with interest wondering if anyone had heard of the work of Perth's Dr John Holt's Cancer Treatment or had seen the documentary movie Burzynski: Cancer Is Serious Business which can be seen on line at vimeo(dot) com(slash)24821365
Both of these doctors have had enormous success and yet they are battling the established big pharma dominated systems simply because they have had the guts follow up on "anomalies" they observed in the patients they were treating. Apparently according to the review boards, FDA’s and the like, their treatments also come under the category of alternative medicines and are treated as snake oil salesmen.
Yes I have lost loved ones to cancer too, but I have also seen a 75 year old man eat only fruit and vegetables for a month until the (clinically diagnosed) melanoma the size of a 5 cent piece fell off his leg. Seeing as there is no money at the end of running clinical trials on fruit and veg I guess this cure will have to remain an urban myth.
Lindsay Smith.
In light of the Belle Gibson revelation, I was reminded of Laura Bond. She's still at it:


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