My Malignant Melanoma

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Wednesday, 15 October 2008


"Anticancer-a new way of life"

I have recently had a book called "Anticancer-a new way of life" by a French psychiatrist (David Servan-Schreiber) brought to my attention.

Whilst the author makes many helpful (if obvious) suggestions in line with scientific knowledge, he mixes in with them liberal quantities of reasonable-sounding nonsense.

Of course as a head-shrinker he is no more qualified than a member of the public to write a book on cancer prevention or cure. He makes this obvious in being taken in by alternative medicine propaganda which a "real" doctor would presumably have spotted.

Particularly insidious is the idea that things which might be associated with reducing the risk of occurrence of cancer might also affect the course of disease once you have it. This does not follow.

So let's have a look at a few of the claims he makes:

1. Sugar feeds cancer preferentially

Whilst this may sound plausible, it is unsupported by any scrap of scientific evidence. Source

2. Stress feeds cancer

Whilst plausible for many years, recent detailed research shows this to be false. Source

3. "Environmental toxins" feed cancer

In the sense used in the book, this is without scientific basis, and is actually informed by alternative medicine propaganda- here is a helpful article about this area of misinformation.

4. Genetics do not have an effect on cancer

This is possibly the most ridiculous assertion in the book. Some cancers are solely genetic in origin, most occur as an interplay of genetic and environmental factors. Source

5. Psychological wounds/Hopelessness/Mental attitude feeds cancer

There is no scientific evidence to support this belief, though it is sometimes held by medical professionals on the basis of their own partial recollection of cases.

The latest study showed no association between mental attitude and progression of cancer.

6. There are anticancer foods:

There are associations between eating certain foods and increased/decreased risk of getting certain cancers (not all cancers, note). Source

There are however no known associations between eating certain foods and survival once you already have cancer.

He recommends a number of specific foods:

a. Turmeric

Turmeric does indeed show some interesting effects. Unfortunately the dose required to obtain them in a human being is 110g per day of turmeric powder! Source

b. GreenTea

A recent study of 26,000 Japanese has shown there to be no beneficial effect on stomach cancer from green tea. Another recent Japanese study of 41,400 people showed no protection against lung cancer.

Note that this means that the previous lab scale work which showed promise for green tea is meaningless.

c. Berries

Bilberries have shown some promise in the lab against cancer cells. Source

However, any suggestion that they have an effect on existing cancer in the human body is highly premature.

d. Cabbage family vegetables

There is limited evidence for this, but strangely, the research only provides evidence for a possible protective effect in men. Source

e. Onion family vegetables

It has not been demonstrated to usual scientific standards that these vegetables reduce the risk of cancer.

There is no evidence to support the idea that they affect the progress of existing cancer.

There is however some evidence to support the assertion that consumption of these vegetables is associated with lower levels of cancer, at least in Europe. Source

The evidence for any role for garlic in cancer prevention is weak. Source

8. You can deliberately and helpfully stimulate your own immune system to prevent and eliminate cancer

There is no evidence for this whatever, and it is a cornerstone of a number of brands of quackery. Source

9. Organic food is better for you

There is no evidence for this whatever. Source

10. Meat causes cancer

There is sufficient evidence to associate red meat with bowel cancer. There is no evidence to suggest that any other link exists between meat and cancer. Source

Of course, it is not for me or anyone else anyone else to prove the author wrong. In science, it is his job to prove his ideas right. He has failed to do so.

He has not really even tried, but has just cherry-picked some attractive ideas with little supporting evidence, and lashed them together into a crock of poor quality pop medicine. A crock of something, certainly.

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