An open letter to the Daily Telegraph about quackery

Dear Sirs

‘Give up dairy products to beat cancer’

A leading scientist, who has been fighting breast cancer since 1987, says the disease is overwhelmingly linked to animal products

Once again, the Daily Telegraph gives credence to alternative medicine nonsense.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/healthyeating/10868428/Give-up-dairy-products-to-beat-cancer.html

This time it an article edited by Cherrill Hicks suggesting that there is a link between dairy products and breast cancer. Rather like spouting the mediaeval ‘doctrine of signatures’, this nonsense continues to raise its head partly because of the exceptionally good public relations exercise done by Jane Plant.

Only one part of that headline and subheading may be true:

  1. You should not give up dairy products to beat cancer, and will probably gain no benefit from doing so.
  2. The concept of “beating cancer” or “fighting cancer” is more properly replaced throughout by “managing cancer” or “surviving cancer”.
  3. She is not a leading scientist in the relevant field of cancer studies.
  4. The disease is not overwhelmingly linked to animal products, and, quite the contrary there is evidence the vitamin D which is found in animal products may reduce the risk of cancer.

It is, however, possible that she has been suffering recurrences of breast cancer since 1987.

In publishing this article, you mislead women when they are at their most vulnerable. You cause people to defer or deny the need for real medical intervention. You give unwarranted credence to people who charge huge sums of money for quackery. You do a grave disservice to the hard-working men and women in medical science, cancer care, and the slow and painstaking process of evidence gathering.

It is very likely that people will suffer tremendously, and quite possibly die unnecessarily because of the belief you encourage in this falsity.

The dairy products and breast cancer linkage relies on the complete misquoting of the 1970s study which allegedly showed that that breast cancer rates were one in 100,000 in Chinese women compared to one in 12 in the West. The problem is the study was flat out wrong. In fact the rates are different, but not 8,000 times different. Diagnostic rates (“ASRWs”) of 21.6 (China) and 76.0 per 100,000 (USA)[i] are well within the range that one would expect when one considers the huge differences in diagnosis, medical practice, and – most importantly of all – the cultural likelihood of a woman reporting breast cancer. Critically, in the developed Western world breast cancer is diagnosed more highly because of primary detection at an early stage. In China, and especially in the poorer regions of China, detection often does not occur until well into the later stages of the disease, by which time it is often misdiagnosed and associated with the symptoms of tumours in other organs.

And yet, heavily pushed by Jane Plant,  US chiropractic associations[ii], and Prof Colin Cambell[iii], the false link between dairy and breast cancer continues to be thrown in the faces of women. These people exist only to sell books, quackery, and courses for large sums to the frightened and vulnerable.

Worse than that, giving space in a prestigious newspaper to this pseudoscience deters women from urgently taking necessary and life lengthening medical treatment at the relevant stage.

Jane Plant is perfectly entitled to tell her own story, but is absolutely not entitled to tell other people how to treat cancer. She was very unfortunate to be diagnosed with breast cancer. She clearly already had body wide metastases, and has had a quite normal pattern of advancement and regression of the disease. It is also absolutely clear that her dairy free diet has not prevented sequential recurrences of secondary tumours throughout her body. Indeed, it could be argued that her acceptance of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and hormone suppression had actually encouraged these brief periods of remission rather than any dietary changes. This simple truth is something she does not appear prepared to discuss.

Ironically, because it depletes the diet of vitamins D, it may well be that removing dairy from diets actually increases dramatically your risk of other life shortening cancers. Vitamin D is one of the few things that has been shown to statistically reduce the risk of such things[iv].

Even worse, Jane Plant extrapolates her own anecdotal experience in the early stages of her disease and attempts to convince men to adopt her dairy free diet as a method of managing completely unrelated prostate and other cancers. One wonders if that was to increase the market for book sales?

Jane Plant goes on to quote even more pseudoscience[v] in relation to acidity in blood. The entire acid generating food theory so beloved by alternative medicine practitioners has been utterly discredited[vi], and there is simply no link between cheese and pH of the blood. (I will accept, it causes heartburn, but that’s possibly because I eat too much stilton). Again, this is the very worst sort of ‘doctrine of signatures’, whereby foods anecdotally linked to acid indigestion go on to be linked through a series of logical errors to some kind of internal metabolic condition. No such link exists.

I suggest that you give urgent thought to replacing Cherrill Hicks with a health editor who is capable of doing the most straightforward checks on statistics and underlying studies, and who is not swayed by anecdote. One would not wish the Telegraph to gain a reputation for promoting pseudoscience and quackery.

I would also like to suggest that you commission a properly qualified cancer research scientist to write a rebuttal, and give it equal precedence and column centimetres next week. It is, in my opinion, the very least you can do for all the men and women suffering from these diseases.

Yours, with immense disappointment

David JW Bailey, esq

 

[i] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3643656/

[ii] http://www.mayeschiropractic.com/?i=articles&articleID=14

[iii] http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/385/

[iv] http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/vitamin-D

[v] http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Alkaline_diet

[vi] http://www.skepdic.com/alkalinediet.html

4 thoughts on “An open letter to the Daily Telegraph about quackery

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  2. Reblogged this on Cancer, Caroline& Carrying on and commented:
    My husband’s reaction after I complained about the nonsense being featured in the newspaper, yet again blaming the cancer patient, and repeating unproven quackery to sell a few books

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  3. The blame the victim fanaticism of quacks who genuinely think correlation is causation as if the sun causes the moon because it follows it at night , is a worry when the recurrence of cancer is blamed on having the odd bit of piece of cheese.

    Environmental factors may become clearer with science over time but promising cures by restrictive diets is a cruel hoax , whether intentional or not by Jane Plant who should know better being well aware of the scientific requirements of proof by rigorous testing.

    As a cancer sufferer it galls that she will be putting desperate patients in harms way with her dodgy spruiking.

    Sincerely Brian Pound

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