MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

A lengthy article posted by THE HOMEOPATHIC COLLEGE recently advocated treating cancer with homeopathy. Since I doubt that many readers access this publication, I take the liberty of reproducing here their (also fairly lengthy) CONCLUSIONS in full:

Laboratory studies in vitro and in vivo show that homeopathic drugs, in addition to having the capacity to reduce the size of tumors and to induce apoptosis, can induce protective and restorative effects. Additionally homeopathic treatment has shown effects when used as a complementary therapy for the effects of conventional cancer treatment. This confirms observations from our own clinical experience as well as that of others that when suitable remedies are selected according to individual indications as well as according to pathology and to cell-line indications and administered in the appropriate doses according to the standard principles of homeopathic posology, homeopathic treatment of cancer can be a highly effective therapy for all kinds of cancers and leukemia as well as for the harmful side effects of conventional treatment. More research is needed to corroborate these clinical observations.

Homeopathy over almost two decades of its existence has developed more than four hundred remedies for cancer treatment. Only a small fraction have been subjected to scientific study so far. More homeopathic remedies need to be studied to establish if they have any significant action in cancer. Undoubtedly the next big step in homeopathic cancer research must be multiple comprehensive double-blinded, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials. To assess the effect of homeopathic treatment in clinical settings, volunteer adult patients who prefer to try homeopathic treatment instead of conventional therapy could be recruited, especially in cases for which no conventional therapy has been shown to be effective.

Many of the researchers conducting studies — cited here but not discussed — on the growing interest in homeopathic cancer treatment have observed that patients are driving the demand for access to homeopathic and other alternative modes of cancer treatment. So long as existing cancer treatment is fraught with danger and low efficacy, it is urgent that the research on and the provision of quality homeopathic cancer treatment be made available for those who wish to try it.

When I report about nonsense like that, I find it hard not to go into a fuming rage. But doing that would not be very constructive – so let me instead highlight (in random order) eight simple techniques that seem to be so common when unsubstantiated claims are being promoted for alternative treatments:

1) cherry pick the data

2) use all sorts of ‘evidence’ regardless how flimsy or irrelevant it might be

3) give yourself the flair of being highly scientific and totally impartial

4) point out how dangerous and ineffective all the conventional treatments are

5) do not shy away from overt lies

6) do not forget to stress that the science is in full agreement with your exhaustive clinical experience

7) stress that patients want what you are offering

8) ignore the biological plausibility of the underlying concepts

Provided we adhere to these simple rules, we can convince the unsuspecting public of just about anything – even of the notion that homeopathy is a cure for cancer!

23 Responses to What can be more irresponsible than implying that homeopathy cures cancer?

  • How far divorced these people are from reality is exemplified by the idea of running RCTs on homeopathy in cancer. I don’t doubt that there are very ill patients who are deluded enough to volunteer to try ineffective treatment, but I can’t imagine any ethics committee approving the protocol. The basic principle of an RCT is that there must be equipoise between the treatments, ie we have insufficient evidence so far that they are different. We do have very good reasons to believe that homeopathy won’t work.

  • The question is whether these quacks are mendacious or whether they merely have a high capacity for self-delusion.

    What is certain, is that homeopathy has no mechanism for self-correction. You’ll probably remember the paper that claimed homeopathy killed breast cancer cells, which lacked adequate controls and only really proved that alcohol is cytotoxic. Indian papers are used to claim that nanoparticles remain in dilution, but this turns out to be sloppy experimental technique (silicates in solutions prepared in glass, heavy metals in solutions of conc. nitric acid, neither of which would be remotely surprising to any chemist).

    These claims are rebutted, but continue to be asserted. Refuted claims are never discarded, Shang et. al is declared to have been refuted and this is asserted as proof that systematic reviews support homeopathy, and so on. It is cargo cult science at its very worst.

    The best way to deal with this is to have good authoritative rebuttals for as many of the prominent claims as possible, but there are so many that it is a Sisyphean task. And it takes time. Dr Rachie is looking at http://download.journals.elsevierhealth.com/pdfs/journals/2005-2901/PIIS2005290113000927.pdf, I believe, but there’s no doubt that the one thing the quacks are learning is how to make policy-based evidence making look less obvious and more like actual science.

    • Guy chapman is a frecuent pseudoskeptik in the world, in the BMJ your comments is funny!
      About of the paper of Anisur Raman, these slandering this researcher?
      In the paper uses placebo vs homeopathic dilution, and the importante afiormation:

      Thus, the results of well-designed experiments using the homeopathically potentized diluted drugs and scientifically acceptable parameters of study are highly significant, even more so because of the fact that the same dilutions of the succussed ethanol (placebo) without the initial drug substance failed to elicit similar responses at the molecular level

      • Not that you would dream of dredging the fallacious depths of ad-hominem, poisoning the well, smear tactics and the like.

        Oh, wait…

        Of course homeopathy believers claim that the results are significant. They have a powerful need to reinforce their dogmas. Unfortunately when you ask the properly scientific question – “does this work” rather than “can I show this works” – you inevitably get the answer “no”.

        The paper to which you allude is just the latest in a long line of papers by homeopathy believers, purporting to show effect. I will give them credit for learning (slowly) how to hide their biases. But each one is the result of bias, and each is demolished in turn. Like the paper showing effect on breast cancer cells, that turned out to be the cytotoxic effect of alcohol; the “nanoparticles” of heavy metals in solutions prepared with conc nitric (that is routinely contaminated with heavy metals); the presence of silicates in solutions prepared in glass vessels.

        Each is trumpeted as final clinching proof of effect, each is demolished in turn, and each is of course inadequate to the task of “proving” that homeopathy works because none addresses the lack of any connection between remedy and disease, the lack of any mechanism by which the purported effect might be transferred to sugar pills, the lack of any evidence of persistence (shelf life), the lack of any evidence that it could transfer to the body and so on.

        Even if a substance id kill cancer cells in vitro, any cancer researcher knows that this is a very long way form showing that it could be a useful drug, still less a drug useful when administered in arbitrary but very, very tiny doses, as is the case when a “remedy” is dripped on a sugar pillule and allowed to evaporate.

        Few effective drugs would work when administered at this level, and for homoeopathic potions to do so would appear to require that the second law of thermodynamics is wrong.

        • What? the “fallacious depth” and others is a typical attack of the pseudoskeptiks, and pseudoskeptik-engineers
          Ha, ha, ha, this is a great example of ad-hominem:

          “Of course homeopathy believers claim that the results are significant. They have a powerful need to reinforce their dogmas. Unfortunately when you ask the properly scientific question – “does this work” rather than “can I show this works” – you inevitably get the answer “no”.”

          Really, can demonstrate that it is biased?:

          “I will give them credit for learning (slowly) how to hide their biases. But each one is the result of bias, and each is demolished in turn. Like the paper showing effect on breast cancer cells, that turned out to be the cytotoxic effect of alcohol; the “nanoparticles” of heavy metals in solutions prepared with conc nitric (that is routinely contaminated with heavy metals); the presence of silicates in solutions prepared in glass vessels.”

          No, no, the paper of Raman Khuda.

          “Each is trumpeted as final clinching proof of effect, each is demolished in turn, and each is of course inadequate to the task of “proving” that homeopathy works because none addresses the lack of any connection between remedy and disease, the lack of any mechanism by which the purported effect might be transferred to sugar pills, the lack of any evidence of persistence (shelf life), the lack of any evidence that it could transfer to the body and so on.”

          The bia liar Guy Chapman and the “each is demolished in turn”, please references.

          “Even if a substance id kill cancer cells in vitro, any cancer researcher knows that this is a very long way form showing that it could be a useful drug, still less a drug useful when administered in arbitrary but very, very tiny doses, as is the case when a “remedy” is dripped on a sugar pillule and allowed to evaporate.”

          But, you are an engineer, not an emeritus researcher in cancer. Your opinion is a fallacy of sham authority.

          <i<"Few effective drugs would work when administered at this level, and for homoeopathic potions to do so would appear to require that the second law of thermodynamics is wrong."

          Ha, ha, ha,…. really? Well, chapman pseudoscientist, if homeopathy contradicts the laws of thermodynamics, else show me evidence!. Not enough to believe, you have to prove.

  • What can be more irresponsible than implying that homeopathy cures cancer? Perhaps supermarket shelve-stocking of QuackRag endorsement. For example:

    http://www.junkscience.co.uk/2012/03/junk-science-much-more-than-placebo-homeopathy-reverses-cancer/

  • In my opinion, not challenging the claims when they are presented in a scientific forum is at least as irresponsible as making the claims.

    I am thinking of the ASCO-meeting a few years ago, when a quack was allowed to give an unchallenged oral presentation, which was quite easy to refute (also it was difficult to identify as homeopathy if you didn’t know).

    Not being challenged at ASCO is being abused by promotors of this.

  • What can be more irresponsible than implying that homeopathy cures cancer?

    Implying that homoeopathy is a viable alternative to vaccination?

  • E. Ernst say:

    “8) ignore the biological plausibility of the underlying concepts”

    The argument o mantra of skeptiks is based in misconceptions in biological sciences and EBM research. The suppose lack of plausibility in homeopathy is a great myth. Aroud of 1000 papers confirms the high plausibility of ultradilutions. Other experiments confirms the first findings of Benveniste. The skeptiks needs a first course of bioethics. James Randi needs repeat “do not lie”.

  • A response by homeopaths to show that homeopathy does indeed have an effect is the treatment of cancer using the Bangerji protocols. I have seen this in almost every comment section in articles about homeopathy. They claim that they see 1000-1200 patients per day and treat using homeopathy only. They have seen complete remission in 21% of their cases and 70% report being helped by the treatment. Cases were given to the NCI and “The results of the review were deemed to be sufficient to warrant NCI-initiated prospective research follow-up in the form of an observational study.”

    They see observational study by the National Cancer Institute as a great victory for homeopathy. Finally, they are taken seriously by the NCI. I see the observational study as a sign of how weak there evidence was that they presented. If the evidence was strong, a controlled trial would be the result.

  • I believe Homeopathic Remedies may palliate/cure Cancer.

    • I don’t think that many people care about what you believe; most would want to see some evidence.

      • Dear EDZARD

        Firstly, I am a breast cancer fighter, not survivor(yet) and I think that your comment is very insensitive for people who fight for their life.

        So many believe in God although there is no scientific evidence to support it and nobody dares to spill so much ink about it.
        Others believe in luck, I guess each one of us does, who can prove it?

        Of course this doesn’t explain homeopathy but it must be a reason to exist and have supporters, hospitals, etc. I doubt money is the reason, homeopathy is fairly inexpensive and so are the drugs compared to what my chemo treatment costs.

        Secondly, I currently undertake chemotherapy treatment and use homeopathy as well.
        All doctors told me that I will feel worse after each chemo cycle in a very scientific manner: good cells get killed together with the cancerous cells, low blood count and so on.
        I guess you agree on this, it makes perfect sense as 1+1=2

        So far I had 5 cycles and I started homeopathy treatment after 1st cycle. I feel better and better. How can you explain?
        Doctors cannot explain me why my blood count looks better and better after each cycle, why my wellness improved, why I have lesser and lesser side effects as from one cycle to another, why my skin looks better and my hair is growing in between the chemo cycles.
        They told me each patient is different. Because…. Every doctor knows how relative is science and that he treats the patient not the disease and so does a homeopath.
        They told me scientifically that my treatment is successful for 50 percent of patients with my cancer type. Why not scientifically for the other 50 percent with the same cancer type if it’s so precise that Taxol kills cancerous cells?

        Maybe chemo will help me or homeopathy but this is the way I chose to fight for my life.
        If I have to read the survival rating I should sit depressed in corner thinking that I will die in the next 10 years or I should hope I will be among the other who lived over 10 years.

        I prefer to hope and try alternatives which help me indeed.

  • “The SCIENCE says – there is no evidence that homeopathy works…”. Quotes such as this are laughable, as well as scientifically absurd. This quote should, at least, be preceded by – “According to current knowledge…”.
    My experience of homeopathy is favourable – it cured my long term digestive problem, conventional medicine did not touch it.
    It cured my 2 year old son of repeated ear infections, completely.
    Now, I really don’t care if ‘modern’ science cannot detect any active molecules in homeopathy; the reason I say this is;
    our bodies are composed of atoms and, at present, we are a long way off understanding what happens at quantum level. Until we have that understanding – please refrain from using the word science as some sort of truth.

  • Forget the anecdotal evidence part of the comment.
    I would prefer a reply to the main basis of it.
    ‘the most reliable clinical trials (at the moment – please) fail to show that homeopathic remedies are more than placebos.’

  • Question:

    What can be more irresponsible than implying that homeopathy cures cancer?

    Answer: Taking money from desperate, sick people by selling them homeopathy under the pretext of it being able to cure their cancer.

  • Dear Bjorn, what is big Pharma then? A non-profit organisation?!
    Herceptin which is a modern cancer targeted therapy is prohibitively expensive in many countries (starts from 50k for a year treatment) and not covered by the public health care system, many people cannot afford it. Of course they become desperate.
    A homeopath remedy costs a approx 10 dollars, no expiry date and can be used for life.

    For malaria falciparum the approved treatment is being changed every year as it’s being claimed that the parasite becomes resistant but any local knows for ages that old good quinine is the best preventive and curative drink…

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