People who know me personally will know that I don’t take cancer lightly (for various reasons I won’t go into here). So I am always a bit reluctant to criticize people who make the fight against cancer their life’s mission. After all, there are easier jobs. But cancer is not just a physical illness; it’s also a taboo-laden, paranoia-attracting, terror-inducing cultural obsession. And that means that most people’s understanding of it will be a product of much more than merely reliable information and sound judgement. A whole lot of psychology will be in the mix too.
That’s why professional cancer docs need to be especially careful when communicating information to the general public. Ditto mainstream intellectually-driven news media. At this stage, some newspapers (such as the Daily Mail) are such laughing stocks in the world of cancer hysteria (Ben Goldacre famously described them as being “on an ongoing ontological program to divide all inanimate objects into ones that will either cause or cure cancer“), it is difficult to read their cancer stories with a straight face (see here and here). Other newspapers, such as the Guardian, (probably) deserve to be taken more seriously.
But, when it comes to medical scares, even the Guardian can play with fire now and again. Today’s piece on cancer, while mostly wholesome, might just be a case in point.
Continue reading “Cancer: Misinformation is a risk factor too”
I recently came across this campaign for homeopathy awareness. Sounds good to me, we could certainly do with a helluva lot more awareness in this area. In fact, one of the more surprising reactions I encounter when I discuss homeopathy with otherwise well-informed people, is when they express surprise about its basic rudiments. Like the fact that there is nothing actually in the stuff. Or that it’s scientifically impossible for there to be anything in there. Or the fact that it is medically inert. Or the fact that homeopathy isn’t herbal medicine (I frequently get something like: “Oh, homeopathy does work, I saw this documentary about St John’s Wort on TV…“).
I even occasionally encounter people who purport to know (and, horror of horrors, to teach) about the health sciences but who remain somehow oblivious to even the simple point that homeopathy is a controversial subject. Continue reading “I’ve decided to do my bit for homeopathy awareness…”
Here is an opinion piece I wrote for in this week’s Modern Medicine magazine. The version below is the final draft prior to some very minor typographical edits. The article also appears online at irishhealth.com, where you can also read a companion article presenting an opposing perspective on complementary medicine. Modern Medicine is published by Medmedia Publications and edited by Ken Fitzsimons.
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Last year saw the death from cancer of Steve Jobs, the entrepreneur who brought us the iPhone, a visionary credited with enhancing the lives of millions through insight and intellectual brilliance. Nonetheless, although acclaimed as a technological sophisticate, Jobs had a proclivity for the esoteric. When diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he chose to eschew ordinary medicine and instead turned to complementary and alternative medicine (or CAM). His therapies included dietary treatments, “hydrotherapy”, acupuncture, naturopathy, and even the occasional visit to a psychic. Continue reading “The costs of complementary medicine”