Here’s a funny thing. I wrote the post below, at the beginning of the year, about how Jeremy Laurance, the Health Editor of the Independent, had apparently conjured a “miracle cancer cure” story out of thin air, but I didn’t publish it onto the blog in the end, because:
a) I couldn’t be bothered to attack alternative therapy nonsense at the time (it was a phase I went through)
b) for all I knew Jeremy Laurance might have gone to the study’s authors and got some kind of personal on-the-phone quote that explained his bonkers riff into miracle cures.
But then, whilst idly following it up and throwing a few emails around the place, it was pointedly pointed out to me that I was right, and that the actual authors of the study that this story purports to be about have written in to the Independent to complain about the misrepresentation.
They performed a study on long term radiotherapy follow-up, and how occasionally people with cancer survive longer than predicted. Somehow, and I have no idea how, the Independent’s health editor turned this into Scientists Have Proved Miracle Cures Do Work. Note: subsequent events appearing below suggest it was not he who was responsible.
Anyway, here’s my original piece, and their letter at the bottom. The lesson is, trust your instincts kids…
Ok, I don’t want to drag you away from the much more interesting stuff that’s happening over here where everybody’s having fun bashing postmodernist nonsense about science, but if you can spare the time, help me out, because I’m sure there must be something I’m missing.
Below, I’ve pasted a news article from today’s Independent, titled “‘Miracle’ cures shown to work”. It opens with the sentence “Doctors have found statistical evidence that alternative treatments such as special diets, herbal potions and faith healing can cure apparently terminal illness, but they remain unsure about the reasons.”
Then after that, I’ve given you the abstract for the academic journal article that this newspaper article is apparently about. It has nothing to say about miracle cures. Seriously, I’ve got an open mind on this one, I don’t think I can be bothered to write about it in the column, but just for my own interest, or my own sanity: there must be something I’m missing here? There must be an extra source, a press release, maybe an interview, or a thought, a twist of mind, a mental leap that draws the connection, something that was cut out by the subs, maybe, anything to connect this paper in the journal “Cancer” about 5 year survival in cancer patients treated with radiotherapy, to this Independent article, which suggests it is about the radiotherapy article, but seems to be about miracle cures. Anyone? I’m open to suggestions.
It’s just puzzling me.
‘Miracle’ cures shown to work
By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
Published: 23 January 2006
Dcotors have found statistical evidence that alternative treatments such as special diets, herbal potions and faith healing can cure apparently terminal illness, but they remain unsure about the reasons.
A study of patients with incurable lung cancer who were given weeks to live and received only low-dose radiotherapy to make their final weeks more comfortable found a small number recovered completely.
Researchers who followed 2,337 patients whose disease was too advanced for curative treatment found that 25 had survived five years and 18 had achieved “an apparent cure”. They appeared to have been cured by treatment that “would not normally be considered to have any curative potential whatsoever”.
The researchers, led by Michael MacManus, a consultant radiation oncologist in Melbourne, say: “Our data indicate that a chance for prolonged survival and possibly even cure exists for approximately 1 per cent of patients with non small cell lung cancer who receive palliative radiotherapy.
“It is important that the frequency of this phenomenon should be appreciated so that claims of apparent cure by novel treatment strategies or even by unconventional medicine or ‘faith healing’ can be seen in an appropriate context.”
Unorthodox cancer cures have included vitamin C, laetrile extracted from apricot stones, and the Gershon diet of raw vegetables.
The discovery of a small group of patients who unexpectedly recovered could yield new insights into the disease, the researchers say.
The findings are published in the online edition of Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society.
Unexpected long-term survival after low-dose palliative radiotherapy for nonsmall cell lung cancer
Published Online: 23 Jan 2006
Michael P. Mac Manus, M.D. 1 *, Jane P. Matthews, Ph.D. 2, Morikatsu Wada 4, Andrew Wirth 1, Valentina Worotniuk 3, David L. Ball, M.D. 1
*Correspondence to Michael P. Mac Manus, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Locked Bag 1, A’Beckett Street, Victoria 3000, Australia
Fax: (011) 613-9656-1424
Copyright Â© 2006 American Cancer Society
nonsmall cell lung cancer â€¢ survival analysis â€¢ radiation therapy â€¢ cure
Many experienced oncologists have encountered patients with proven nonsmall cell lung cancer (NCLC) who received modest doses of palliative radiotherapy (RT) and who unexpectedly survived for > 5 years; some were apparently cured. We used a very large prospective database to estimate the frequency of this phenomenon and to look for correlative prognostic factors.
Patients with histologically or cytologically proven NSCLC, treated with palliative RT to a dose of 36 Gy, were identified from a prospective database containing details of 3035 new patients registered from 1984-1990.
An estimated 1.1% (95% confidence interval, 0.7-1.6%) of 2337 palliative RT patients survived for 5 or more years after commencement of RT, including 18 patients who survived progression-free for 5 years. Estimated median survival was 4.6 months. Five-year survivors had significantly better Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group performance status at presentation than non-5-year survivors (P = 0.024) and were less likely to have distant metastases (P = 0.020). RT dose did not appear to be a significant prognostic factor. Patients who survived 5 years without progression had an estimated 78% probability of remaining free from progression in the next 5years.
Approximately 1% of patients with proven NSCLC survived for > 5 years after palliative RT, and many of these patients appeared to have been cured by a treatment usually considered to be without curative potential. Because of the potential for long-term survival, doses to late-reacting normal tissues should be kept within tolerance when prescribing palliative RT in NSCLC.
Received: 31 May 2005; Revised: 31 August 2005; Accepted: 29 September 2005
On 23 January you published a piece entitledâ€ â€˜Miracleâ€™ cures shown to workâ€. The article described the findings of a scientific paper published in the journal Cancer. I was the first author of that publication.
Your report stated that our paper showed that â€œDoctors have found statistical evidence that alternative treatments such as special diets, herbal potions and faith healing can cure apparently terminal illness, but they remain unsure about the reasons.â€ This is absolutely untrue and a gross misrepresentation of our findings.
We suggested that the patients might have tumours that were unusually sensitive to radiation but our paper contains nothing to suggest that any patients were cured by therapies such as â€œvitamin C, laetrile extracted from apricot stones, or the Gershon diet of raw vegetablesâ€. The Independent article has been widely quoted to give support to such therapies when it contains nothing to support them.
MICHAEL MAC MANUS
EAST MELBOURNE, VICTORIA,