Bernie Siegel, M.D., author of "Love, Medicine & Miracles" and "Peace, Love & Healing", claims that "happy people generally don't get sick" and that "one's attitude toward oneself is the single most important factor in healing or staying well." Siegel also states that "a vigorous immune system can overcome cancer if it is not interfered with, and emotional growth toward greater self-acceptance and fulfilment helps keep the immune system strong." However, he has published no scientific study supporting these claims.
A 10-year study co-authored by Siegel found that 34 breast cancer patients participating in his program did not live longer after diagnosis than comparable non-participants. The program consisted of weekly peer support and family therapy, individual counselling, and the use of positive imagery. In November 1998, Siegel sent a series of email messages to Dr. Barrett (who runs Quackwatch) in which he said that the study bearing his name had been done by a student and was improperly designed."
I think it would be more than fair to say that Siegel is making claims with no scientific foundation, which fly in the face of even his own research. This seems less than kosher to me.
The idea that attitude affects the course of cancer has been scientifically discredited for some time. As cancerbacup point out, whilst it has no beneficial effect the pressure to be positive can become an additional burden for a cancer patient.
There is some evidence that stress might have an effect on cancer progression, but that pressuring people with less sunny coping styles to be positive is stressful for them. This article discusses the research in question.
And then there are all of the studies (including Dr. Siegel's own one) which do not show the effect. Every one of these is a nail in the coffin of claims that it exists. Like so much pseudoscience, the harder you look, the less you see it.
But of course there are people for whom a positive mental attitude works wonders. The loved ones of the cancer patient. Perhaps this is why some of them are such fierce advocates of the PMA. Bad enough that their loved one is possibly dying, but do they really have to go on about it? Let's tell them that if they don't be a bit more positive they'll die sooner, that'll shut them up!
I'm sure that like myself, most cancer patients would like to take as positive and hopeful an attitude to their cancer, its treatment and prognosis as they can from moment to moment, as dictated by their normal coping style.
I'm sure that like me, they are as nice as they can be under the circumstances, and put on as brave a face as they can to protect their loved ones to the extent allowed by the emotional and physical resources available to them.
Having cancer is however a bit of a downer at times. Telling us to pull ourselves together is even less useful than it would be for someone suffering from depression. Telling us to be a bit more cheery on pain of death is less useful still.
Coming back to Dr Siegel, not only has he not proven that his ideas or "treatment" prolongs life, he has not proven that it makes people happier. He has not proven any one of his claims, but has in fact apparently personally supervised someone who has disproved them. He has no evidence to support his claims, but does has evidence to show that his personally supervised programme is worse than useless. Yet he does not retract any of his claims.
Is this fraud or quackery? I suppose that that decision depends on the precise definition of the words you are employing. We can however be pretty clear that this is not acting as a scientist or as an effective medical practitioner.
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