Thursday, September 17, 2009

Carcinogenic quackery

This was a bad week to be a celebrity. First the saviour to many of the world’s starving, Norman Borlaug, then Patrick Swayze, then (and being food obsessed, I admit this crushed me the most) Keith Floyd, and then Mary Travers. When will it end?

The media response was predictable. It's too early to gauge the impression Mary Travers's made, but, to date, Patrick Swayze got the most coverage, then Keith Floyd, and coming in at the end was underappreciated Norman Borlaug - nothing to do with their contributions to humanity, but rather their degree of celebrity status.

Therefore, I am a little upset with myself that I am going to add to the coverage already given to Patrick Swayze. He didn’t bother me at all; I just think an intellect like me should have more to say about Floyd and Borlaug.

However, I am going to blog about Swayze indirectly.

Through no fault of my own, and perhaps against my better judgement, I know people who have assumed that because I live on a lifestyle block, and try to be as organic about my produce as I can, I must therefore be a fan of quackery. To that end, an article was forwarded to me, written by someone called Mike Adams, who writes for (

God knows why they must waste my broadband data limits on this sort of rubbish, but it's got me mad enough to rant. I’ll state upfront that while I think there is a place for alternative medicine if a person wishes to pursue it, and there may well be a good case for alternative medicine alongside conventional medicine, I am not a fan of people preaching alternative medicine in isolation. By all means, follow alternative medicine if it's your thing, but don't preach to everyone that it is the only cure.

What I found disgusting about this article was the misinformation and lies about chemotherapy versus "natural" therapies. In particular, what got to me was the title that Patrick Swayze was dead because of the chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer.

No, you insensitive stupid nutcase. Swayze died of stage IV pancreatic cancer. It wasn't the chemotherapy that killed him. It was the cancer.

Like all good alternative medicine fantasy, Adams confuses correlation with causation. I'm guessing that most, if not all, cancer patients have chemotherapy before the end. That does not mean the chemotherapy is what killed them.

Of course, there is the occasional exception - chemotherapy is not without risk - but in general, it is not what kills. There is a correlation, but not causation.

What Adams fails to note is that Swayze lived far longer than the average patient with stage IV pancreatic cancer, nearly 20 months as opposed to an average survival rate of less than six months. True, given how horrific pancreatic cancer is, the chemotherapy that Swayze underwent probably only modestly prolonged his life, but it was Swayze's choice to undergo the chemotheraphy treatment. Of course, Adams cannot acknowledge that Swayze actually did quite well, at least as well as one can expect from a patient with the disease that he had, because to do so would undermine his belief that all chemotherapy is evil poison that does no good.

After posting a despicable photos of "before and after chemo" shots, and after a string of paragraphs claiming that "the cancer industry" has killed untold celebrities and lamenting how Swayze chose chemotherapy over "natural" cures, Adams gets to the meat of his claims:
Of course, the cancer industry takes no responsibility for his death. Drug companies and cancer docs never accept responsibility for the way their poisonous treatments harm (and often kill) many fine people.

Had Patrick Swayze's pancreatic cancer gone away, doctors would have hailed chemotherapy as the genius treatment that saved Swayze's life. But chemotherapy has never healed anyone of cancer. Not once in the history of medicine. And when people die after being poisoned by chemotherapy, the oncologists and conventional medical doctors just shrug and say ridiculous things like, "The cancer was too far along" or "He didn't fight it hard enough."

Actually, it's the quacks who usually blame the patient. Either the patient brought the disease on himself by engaging in a poor lifestyle, or the reason the "cure" didn't work is because the patient either didn't follow the protocol to the letter or didn't believe in it strongly enough. I would be surprised to hear an oncologist blame a patient's death on the patient not having fought it hard enough. Oncologists just don't talk that way. And rightly so.

More interesting to me is Adams' claim that chemotherapy has never, he says, healed anyone of cancer, "not once in the history of medicine."

In the interests of not divulging my husband’s identity on here, I won’t talk about his background, other than to say that my children and I are blessed and grateful to have him. Chemotherapy has something to do with this. So, Mr Adams, I’ll find someone famous for you. Have you heard Lance Armstrong? He had testicular cancer. Not only that, but it was a stage IV disease, with metastases to lung and brain. Armstrong credits chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation of curing him of his cancer, and he's been cancer-free for 13 years. Adams is, of course, too deluded to accept it, but I would guess that chemotherapy "cures" thousands of patients with cancer each and every year. True, against metastatic solid tumours like pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy all too often doesn't do much good in terms of prolonging survival (testicular cancer is an exception to that rule of thumb), but it can do quite a bit of good in terms of palliation, depending on the specific cancer.

Of course, the reason that chemotherapy doesn't cure is obvious, if you're a loony like Adams:
"I want to last until they find a cure, which means I'd better get a fire under it," Swayze said in a highly-publicised interview with ABC's Barbara Walters. No one apparently told Swayze the cancer industry isn't looking for a cure. They're looking for more business from more patients, and a genuine "cure" for cancer is flatly incompatible with the industry's business interests.
Actually, logic, reason, and science are flatly incompatible with Mike Adams's brain. There are already "cures" for a number of cancers in the form of chemotherapy regimens. Adams falls for the simplification that all too many people believe, namely that cancer is a single disease with a single cure. There is no single "cure for cancer."  There are, however, cures for cancers, recognising that each cancer is unique.

Adams also assumes that since scientific medicine can't cure cancer 100% of the time, it never does. To him, it's black or white, all or nothing thinking. And, his conspiratorial mindset prevents him from realising that any scientist who found the cure for a killer cancer like pancreatic cancer would be on an instant track for a Nobel Prize.

It is the intelligence and sacrifice of scientists (and perhaps some much appreciated lab rats) that has lead to remarkable treatments for once incurable diseases.  If Adams doesn’t want to use them, that’s his prerogative, but his diatribe on Swayze, and his spurious claims without evidence, are offensive and disgusting. And possibly downright dangerous.

(Source for scientific information - my father, who is a medical professional.  But the views in this blog are entirely mine.)


brian_smaller said...

OM - well written. Another "celebrity" - at least a hero to your correspondent, Adams, also died last week. It was Hulda Clark - one of those 'I have the only cure for all cancer" quacks who extorted money from vulnerable people in a seedy Mexican 'clinic'. She had claimed to have the cure for all cancer and all diseases. Apparently she forgot to dose herself.

Lucy said...


Lucy said...

Sorry just in case it wasnt clear Adams is the Pillock.

michael porter said...

I am a strong advocate of an integrative approach to helping someone with a health challenge. It is certainly true that Adams overstates the case for a natural approach, but the reality is that the allopathic approach to pancreatic cancer is a failure. It just doesn't work, and it is very expensive, and is brutal to go through. It is very true that diet, exercise, and ones mental state can contribute mightily to good health, and there are natural approaches which are helping people.

It is also true that there is a bias in the allopathic community to a mechanistic approach to "curing" disease. Take a pill, cut it out, etc. In the "alternative" community there is a bias to the least invasive approach. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, just like in the allopathic community.

Why rail against Adams? His complaint is mainly that natural living has benefits and if you expect the traditional medical community to "get it" you are going to be disappointed.

We are moving into a much more integrative view of health. Even the NIH has set up an alternative medicine research department. In the future, hopefully we can use many different approaches to help someone, and use the least invasive approaches first.

Opinionated Mummy said...

Michael, I'm not disagreeing with you. In fact, I do say in my blog that I think there is a place for alternative medicine and natural therapies. My issue is when people promote therapies with completely disregard for any conventional options. If I take my husband's case, yes he did undergo chemo, but he also chose to make changes to his diet, and I think the two TOGETHER - not in isolation - helped him. Adams, to me, is trying to make his case (in a sick, despicable way - he doesn't merely state a case for alternative options) by stating there is no place at all for conventional medicine. And I disagree with that position.

You sensibly state that "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, just like in the allopathic community." Adams doesn't state this at all. He is stating that natural works all the time, and conventional chemotherapy never work. I think this is wrong, and is completely disregards the centuries of discovery that has gone into modern medicine. I think it's great that there is an increasing integrative approach, and that doctors these days are looking at the least invasive option. But for Adams to disregard this in the manner that he does is irresponsible and arrogant.