Dear Editor, as president of Brisbane Skeptic Society and concerned medical researcher I previously wrote to you in regard to your August 13th 2014 article “Low vaccination rates spark new campaign”, in which a citizen that was not qualified to speak on vaccination was inappropriately quoted as a legitimate source. I was disappointed then to read a recent article in the newspaper published on the 16th of September 2015 titled “Mum who said no to chemotherapy ‘poison’ clear of cancer”.
Cancer is a serious illness; over 120,000 Australians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer by the end of the year with 45,000 more unfortunately succumbing to the various forms of the disease. Many cancers can become life threatening extremely quickly if not treated in the appropriate way so it is extremely alarming to see dangerous health advice not only featured in the Sunshine Coast Daily but even worse lacking the appropriate evaluation and warnings that should be provided by a qualified professional.
Chemotherapeutic drugs used to treat cancers are some of the most potent drugs we have at our disposal. Since the advent of these treatments in the last 30 years the rate of deaths due to cancer has decreased by 16%. However due to the potent nature of the drugs there are significant and extremely unpleasant side effects associated. It is understandable that the prospect of enduring these side effects is very intimidating to patients who are already struggling with the news that they have a life threatening illness. It is for this very reason that allowing the propagation of the idea that chemotherapies are “poison” (and in the process implying that the drugs are not effective) is unacceptable. Patients should be well informed of the possible side effects but not misled, this could very well lead to the loss of lives.
Ms Macklin-Rice advocates a number of alternative approaches including a strict dietary regime including cutting down “party food” and alcohol, fasting, and yoga. There is no evidence that any of these things are a factor in preventing the advent or recurrence of cancer. These things set a dangerous precedent of victim blaming, implying that if only a patient had followed the right diet or exercise regime they would have been able to prevent their cancer.
Perhaps the most concerning recommendation is the use of black salve, a treatment that is proven to be extremely dangerous and is banned from sale in Australia. Furthermore there is no evidence that black salve is an effective form of treatment against cancer.
Stories of patients who go against the mainstream medical paradigm and claim to have healed themselves with natural remedies make for an emotive and compelling narrative. Ms Mackline-Rice is fortunate that her surgery (a conventional intervention) was a success and seems to have removed all the cancerous cells. Unfortunately these stories are the minority and represent survivorship bias in the worst possible way. Remember the dead can’t talk.
Early this year prominent Sunshine Coast health blogger Jessica Ainscough and previously her mother became unfortunate victims of the belief that conventional cancer treatments were dangerous and that they could heal themselves with natural therapies, diet and exercise. I would hate to see more Sunshine Coast residents meet with a similar fate because they followed the advice in this article.
Ross Balch, BAppSc(MedSc) BAppSc(Microbiol)
President, Brisbane Skeptic Society
Orac an oncologist at the Respectful Insolence blog has also written about this case.
Issues such as this one and other science and critical thinking topics will be discussed at the Australian Skeptics National Convention in October this year.