MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Cancer

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Guest post by Toby Katz

Who am I?

I’m a final-year graduate medic (also hold an Economics degree) studying at St George’s University. I founded the Integrative Medicine Society at the university, with the aim of hosting talks on evidence-based CAM. My interest in evidence-based CAM arose as many of my family members have benefitted from different CAM interventions (mostly due to chronic MSk pain), where conventional interventions (physiotherapy and chronic pain teams) have failed to resolve their issues.

When it comes to the CAM debate, I see myself as a centrist. I am both a CAM apologist and sceptic and in recent years I have looked to educate myself around this subject. I have read Ernst’s Desktop Guide to CAM and Moral Maze books, spoken to Professor Colquhoun and most recently I undertook the Foundation Course in CAM run by the College of Medicine. My review of the course follows.

Overall, there’s a lot to learn from both sides of the debate and the debate continues due to systematic issues in the UK. Ad hominem attacks don’t help anyone, but conversation can. I hope I can converse with many of you in the future.

The Foundation Course

Two days of fast-paced talks on Integrative/Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The topics included: Resilience, nutritional therapy, medical acupuncture, MSk methods for non-osteopaths, homeopathy, herbs and spices, imagery and relaxation, cancer, hypnotherapy and social prescribing.

The speakers included: Professor David Peters, Dr Catherine Zollman (Medical Director for Penny Brohn), Heather Richards (Nutritional Therapist), Dr Elizabeth Thompson (GP and homeopath), Trevor Hoskisson (Hypnotherapist), Dr Mike Cummings (BMAS), Simon Mills (Medical Herbalist) – at least two of these are already in the infamous Alt Med Hall of Fame!

Initial feelings

My initial feelings upon hearing the talks were that most of these individuals are inherently good people, who want the best outcomes for their patients. Their aim is to operate in the areas of medicine where conventional medicine doesn’t hold the answers – chronic pain, idiopathic headache, IBS etc. But there were also people who were advocating the use of unproven alternative therapies.

These were some of my thoughts I jotted down during the two days:

Professor Peters – Constantly speaking in generalisations. Uses historic references, romantic and philosophical language to entice listeners but generally has little point to what he says. Suffers from tangential thinking. Loses track of his own point. Very Freudian-like thinking (everyone has gone through childhood trauma according to him).

Dr Catherine Zollman – Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. The doctor I resonate most closely with out of everyone speaking. Promoting the holistic management of a cancer diagnosis; integrating (not undermining) conventional medicine with complementary ways of dealing with the stress surrounding the diagnosis and much more. Works for a non-for-profit organisation. She has many years of oncology experience and strives to create a patient-centred approach to management.

Dr Mike Cummings – promoting medical acupuncture mainly for myofascial pain syndrome. I volunteered to receive acupuncture in my shoulder (have had post-op muscular pain since April). He dry-needled one of my trigger points and it helped, for a few days – this is better than anything a physio has done for me so far. I don’t know why dry-needling isn’t taught at medical school to help with myofascial pain syndrome.

Dr Elizabeth Thompson – Very respectable but I do feel the homeopathy ship has well and truly sailed. Provided ‘evidence’ on how ‘succussion’ changes the make-up of water molecules. Though Dr Thompson is medically trained, there are many non-medical homeopaths who promote things such as homeoprophylaxis and anti-vaccine views and I’m more worried about these such homeopaths. I do respect Dr Thompson and believe her when she says she has helped many patients. Whether this is due to placebo or the get-better-anyway effect I don’t know.

What they were promoting

On reflection, it’s clear that there was a real mix in promoting evidence-based therapies and eyebrow-raising alternatives – this is often difficult for those with an untrained eye to spot the difference. There was a general air of distrust with modern science and EBM floating around the room at all times. Sure, there are things wrong with it, but I think it’s done us pretty well over the last few decades!

I irritated a few speakers when I asked about the evidence behind their claims!

What to take away

There were many GPs present, who stated they’re often in a difficult position in the current system of healthcare we have in the UK. Around half of all consultations are MSk based, many of which are associated with chronic, muscular pain. The WHO analgesic pathway does little for these patients (unless you want to knock them for six with oxycodone) and physiotherapists struggle to make a real difference in a 30-minute appointment. The truth is, we are not providing GPs with the right toolkit to cope with these “difficult” patients.

Going forward

– Get a copy of Ernst et al.’s Desktop Guide for CAM

– Release more formal guidelines using this book as a base for any positive evidence

– Engage in conversation with those from both sides. We have a lot to learn from one another

– SCRAP the forms of CAM that have no plausibility

Food for thought

– If a patient’s pain improves after a session of acupuncture and not from physiotherapy, does it fit with a utilitarian ethical model to deny this person access to acupuncture if EBM shows acupuncture has rates similar to placebo?

– Chronic myofascial pain syndrome. Can we manage it better in primary care? Why not teach dry needling to healthcare professionals? (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4107879/ – Desai et al suggest it works)

– What is the alternative for no CAM for many patients who suffer? If patient’s choice is reduced, does that not reduce their autonomy?

If anyone wishes to contact me, you can at tkatz@live.co.uk

The fact that homeopathy is under siege in France, has been discussed before. Now even the international media have picked up the story. Here are some excerpts from an interesting article in Bloomberg:

… The looming brawl gets to the heart of conflicting visions of the state’s involvement in the country’s health system at a time of eroding quality and services. Jobs are also at stake: France is home to Boiron SA, the leader in a global homeopathy market estimated at more than $30 billion.

Boiron’s pills and tinctures have long coexisted with conventional care in France, prescribed by regular doctors and dispensed in almost every pharmacy. Ending public support for the remedies would discredit homeopathy and “send a shock wave” through the industry worldwide, says Boiron’s chief executive officer, Valerie Poinsot. “We’ve been caught in this storm for the past year,” Poinsot says. “Why the hostility, when we contribute to caring for patients?”

Facing a possible backlash, Boiron, based in Lyon, teamed with rivals Weleda AG of Switzerland and closely held family group Lehning to fund a campaign called MyHomeoMyChoice. The push has garnered just over 1 million signatures in an online petition and placed bright-colored posters framed with the recognizable little white pills at pharmacies across the country. “Homeopathy has treated generations of French patients,” says one slogan. “Why deprive future generations?”

For now, French people can walk into any pharmacy and buy a tube of Arnica granules — recommended for shocks and bruises — or roughly a thousand other similar remedies for 1.6 euros ($1.80) with a prescription, because the state health system shoulders about 30% of its cost. In some cases, private insurers cover the remainder and patients pay nothing. That may all soon change. A science agency is wrapping up a study of the relative benefits of alternative medicine that will inform the government’s position: Keep the funding, trim it or scrap it altogether.

If the government cuts funding, Boiron would instantly feel the pain. Poinsot estimates that sales of reimbursed treatments could plummet by 50% in France, where the company brings in almost half its revenue. The company’s stock price has lost about 13% since May 15, when a French newspaper wrote that the panel reviewing homeopathy funding would probably rule against it…

In France, the controversy first erupted last year when the influential Le Figaro newspaper published a letter from a doctor’s collective called FakeMed lambasting alternative medicines. The authors called for ending support of “irrational and dangerous” therapies with “no scientific foundation.” The ensuing debate prompted Health Minister Agnes Buzyn to place funding under review and ask the country’s High Authority for Health to rule on homeopathy’s scientific merits…

David Beausire, a doctor in palliative care at the hospital in Mont de Marsan, in southwest France, is among those who signed the FakeMed letter. Beausire, who sees many terminally ill patients, said he regularly gets people who consult too late because they first explored alternative medicine paths that include homeopathy. “I am not an extremist,” he says. But homeopathy’s reimbursement by the state health system gives it legitimacy when “there’s no proof that it works.”…

Stung by accusations of quackery, Antoine Demonceaux, a doctor and homeopath in Reims, founded a group called SafeMed last November to relay the message that homeopathy has a role to play alongside standard care. He points to the growing number of cancer centers offering consultations to relieve treatment-related symptoms, such as nausea, with homeopathic medicine. Demonceaux says neither he nor his colleagues would ever use homeopathy as a substitute for treatments intended to, say, shrink tumors. “A general practitioner or a specialist who’d claim to be a homeopath and to cure cancer with homeopathy? Just sack him,” he says. “Let’s get real. We are doctors.”

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On the whole, this is a good report which – as far as I can see – describes the situation quite well and provides interesting details. What, however, with this articles and many like it is this: journalists (and others) are too often too lethargic or naïve to check the veracity of the claims that are being made during these disputes. For instance, it would not have been all that difficult to discover that:

  1. Hahnemann called clinicians who used homeopathy alongside conventional treatments ‘traitors‘! He categorically forbade it and denied that such an approach merits the name ‘HOMEOPATHY’. In other words, let’s get real and let’s not pull wool over the eyes of the public (and let’s be honest, it is not possible to practice homeopathy within the boundaries of medical ethics).
  2. Many homeopaths do advocate homeopathy as a sole treatment for cancer and other serious conditions (see for instance here, here and here).

The obvious risk of such lack of critical thinking is that homeopathy might be kept refundable on the basis of big, fat lies. And clearly, that would not be in the interest of anyone (with the exception of family Boiron, of course).

So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is a seriously dangerous option for cancer patients who aim at curing their cancer with it. One cannot warn patients often and strongly enough, I believe. But when it comes to supportive cancer treatment (care that does not aim at changing the natural history of the disease), SCAM might have a place. I said ‘might’ because its exact role is far from clear.

The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of a complex, nurse-led, supportive care intervention using SCAM on patients’ quality of life (QoL) and associated patient-reported outcomes. In this prospective, pragmatic, bicentric, randomized controlled trial, women with breast or gynaecologic cancers undergoing a new regimen of chemotherapy (CHT) were randomly assigned to routine supportive care plus intervention (intervention group, IG) or routine care alone (control group, CG). The intervention consisted of SCAM applications and counseling for symptom management, as well as SCAM information material. The primary endpoint was global QoL measured with the EORTC-QLQ-C30 before and after SCAM.

In total, 126 patients were randomly assigned into the IG and 125 patients into the CG. The patients’ medical and socio-demographic characteristics were homogenous at baseline and at follow-up. No group effects on QoL were found upon completion of CHT, but there was a significant group difference in favour of the IG, 6 months later. IG patients did also experience significant better emotional functioning and less fatigue.

The authors concluded that the tested supportive intervention did not improve patients’ QoL outcomes directly after CHT (T3), but was associated with significant QoL improvements when considering the change from baseline to the time point T4, which could be assessed 6 months after patients’ completion of CHT. This delayed effect may have resulted due to a strengthening of patients’ self-management competencies.

A prospective, pragmatic, bicentric, randomized controlled trial! Doesn’t this sound rigorous? In fact, this term merely hides a trial that was destined to generate a positive result. As it followed the infamous A+B versus B design, it hardly had a chance to not come out positive.

The only thing I find amazing is that the short-term results failed to be statistically significant. Far too many SCAM researchers, it seems to me, view science as a tool for promoting their dubious ideas.

The use of SCAM with the aim of improving QoL might be helpful. But this assumption cannot be accepted on the basis of opinion; we need good science to find out which forms of SCAM are worth employing. Sadly, studies like the above are not in this category.

If you ask me, it is high time that this misleading nonsensical and unethical pseudo-research stops!

Time for celebrations and congratulations!

Why?

You might remember the story; over a year ago, I reported that a SCAM practitioner was suing a critic:

‘Doctor’ Colleen Huber (DCH) is the US naturopath who is currently suing Britt Hermes. For me, this is enough reason to do a bit of reading and find out who DCH is and what motivates her. Here is what I found out (I added some * to the quotes [all in italics] and comments below).

DCH has an impressive presence on the Internet. One website, for instance, tells us that DCH is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor* in Tempe, Arizona. Her clinic, Nature Works Best Cancer Clinic, has had the most successful results of any clinic in the world reporting its results over the last 9 years **.

Dr. Huber authored the largest and longest study*** in medical history on sugar intake in cancer patients, which was reported in media around the world in 2014. Her other writing includes her book, Choose Your Foods Like Your Life Depends On Them ****, and she has been featured in the books America’s Best Cancer Doctors and Defeat Cancer. Dr. Huber’s academic writing has appeared in The Lancet *****, the International Journal of Cancer Research ***** and Molecular Mechanisms *****,  and other medical journals ******. Her research interests are in the use of therapeutic approaches targeting metabolic aspects of cancer…

*I am puzzled by this title. Is it an official one? I only found this, and it omits the ‘medical’: Currently, 20 states, five Canadian provinces, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed laws regulating naturopathic doctors. Learn more about licensure from the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. It seems that Arizona is the only state where the ‘medical’ is allowed. However, don’t take this to mean that DCH went to medical school.

** ‘most successful results of any clinic in the world’? Really? Where are the comparative statistics?

*** the study had all of 317 patients and was published in an obscure, non-Medline listed journal.

**** currently ranked  #1,297,877 in Books on Amazon.

***** no such entries found on Medline.

****** sorry, but my Medline search for ‘huber colleen’ located only 2 citations, both on arthritis research conducted in an US Pfizer lab and therefore probably not from ‘our’ DCH.

Another website on or by DCH informs us that her outfit Nature Works Best is a natural cancer clinic located in Tempe, Arizona, that focuses on natural, holistic, and alternative cancer treatments. Our treatments have proved to be an effective alternative to traditional chemotherapy and radiation, which we do not use in our treatments. Rather, we have developed a natural method of treating cancers based on intravenous vitamin therapy which may include Vitamin-C, Baking Soda, and other tumor fighting agents as well as a simple food plan. *

Our team of naturopathic medical doctors have administered an estimated 31,000 IV nutrient treatments, used for all stages and types of tumors. As of July 2014, 80% of patients who completed our treatments alone went into remission, 85% of patients who completed our treatments and followed our food plan went into remission. **

* Give me a break! Vitamin-C and Baking Soda are claimed to have proved to be an effective alternative to traditional chemotherapy and radiation ? I would like to see the data before I believe this!

** Again, I would like to see the data before I believe this!

Finally, a further website proudly repeats that her academic writing has appeared in The Lancet and Cancer Strategies Journal, and other medical journals. It even presents an abstract of her published work; here it is:

Recent recommendations for the more widespread prescription of statin drugs in the U.S. have generated controversy.  Cholesterol is commonly thought to be the enemy of good health.  On the other hand, previous research has established the necessity of cholesterol in production of Vitamin D and steroid hormones, among other purposes, some of which have been shown to have anti-cancer effect.  We compare total serum cholesterol (TC) in cancer survivors vs cancer fatalities, and we assess the value of deliberately lowering TC among cancer patients.  We also examined diet in the survivors as well as those who then died of cancer.

In this original previously unpublished research, we conducted a double-blind retrospective case series, in which we looked back at data from all 255 cancer patients who came to and were treated by our clinic with either current dietary information, and/or a recent serum TC level, measured by an unaffiliated laboratory or an unaffiliated clinic over the previous seven years, comparing TC in the surviving cancer patients versus those cancer patients who died during that time.

Surviving cancer patients had 24.0 points higher mean total cholesterol than the mean for deceased cancer patients.  A number of dietary differences between cancer survivors and those who then died of cancer were also found to be notable.

Caution is advised before attempting to lower cholesterol in cancer patients with close to normal TC levels.  Those cancer patients with higher TC were more likely to survive their cancer.

I don’t know about you, but I am not impressed. Surviving cancer patients had 24.0 points higher mean total cholesterol than the mean for deceased cancer patients. Has DCH thought of the possibility that moribund patients quite simply eat less? In which case, the observed difference would be a meaningless epiphenomenon.

At this point, I stopped my reading; I now knew more than I needed to know about DCH (if you want to read more, I recommend this or this post).

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, DCH is currently suing Britt Hermes for libel…

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Yesterday Britt Hermes reported that she has won the court case:

On May 24, 2019, the District Court (Landgericht) of Kiel, Germany ruled against naturopathic cancer quack Colleen Huber in a defamation lawsuit she brought against me. Huber filed suit in September 2017 over my opinions about the dubious treatments and human subjects research at her cancer clinic in Tempe, Arizona (USA), and also over my suspicions that Huber was cybersquatting domains in my name…

In a blog post from December 2016, I theorized that Huber or someone in her close orbit had registered domains using my first and last names to misrepresent my position on naturopathic “doctors.” You can view the archive of brittmariehermes.com from 31 March 2016 here. In my post, I also wrote about Huber’s dubious cancer treatments of intravenous baking soda, mega-doses of intravenous vitamin C, and a strict sugar-free diet. Huber advocates against state-of-the-art oncology, especially chemotherapy and radiation, because she thinks these therapies strengthen cancer…

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I am sure that many readers of the blog want to join me in congratulating Britt.

VERY WELL DONE INDEED!

Many cancer patients use so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). On this blog, we have repeatedly discussed whether this does more good than harm. This study sheds new light on the question. Specifically, it aims to explore the benefits of TCM therapy in the long-term survival of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma in China.

In total, 3483 patients with HCC admitted to the Beijing Ditan Hospital of Capital Medical University were enrolled. The researchers used 1:1 frequency matching by sex, age, diagnosis time, Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer staging, and type of treatments to compare the TCM users (n = 526) and non-TCM users (n = 526). A Cox multivariate regression model was employed to evaluate the effects of TCM therapy on the HR value and Kaplan-Meier survival curve for mortality risk in HCC patients. A log-rank test was performed to analyse the effect of TCM therapy on the survival time of HCC patients.

The Cox multivariate analysis indicated that TCM therapy was an independent protective factor for 5-year survival in patients with HCC. The Kaplan-Meier curve also showed that after PS matching, TCM users had a higher overall survival rate and a higher progression-free survival rate than non-TCM users. TCM users, regardless of the classification of etiology, tumor stage, liver function level, or type of treatment, all benefited significantly from TCM therapy. The most commonly used Chinese patent medications used were Fufang Banmao Capsule, Huaier Granule, and Jinlong Capsule.

The authors concluded that using traditional Chinese medications as adjuvant therapy can probably prolong median survival time and improve the overall survival among patients with HCC. Further scientific studies and clinical trials are needed to examine the efficiency and safety.

I was unable to access the full article and therefore am unable to provide a detailed critique of it. From reading the abstract, I should point out, however, that this was not an RCT. To minimise bias, the researchers used a matching technique to generate two comparable groups. Such methods can be successful in matching for the named parameters, but they cannot match for the plethora of variables that might be relevant but were not measured. Therefore, the survival difference between the two groups might be due not to the therapies they received, but to the fact that the groups were not comparable in terms of factors that impact on survival.

Another important point about this paper is the obvious fact that it originates from China. We know from several independent investigations that such studies almost never report negative findings. We also know that TCM is a hugely important export item for China. Adding two and two together should therefore make us sceptical. I for one take the present findings with more than a pinch of salt.

Radix Salviae Miltiorrhizae (Danshen) is a herbal remedy that is part of many TCM herbal mixtures. Allegedly, Danshen has been used in clinical practice for over 2000 years.

But is it effective?

The aim of this systematic review was to evaluate the current available evidence of Danshen for the treatment of cancer. English and Chinese electronic databases were searched from PubMed, the Cochrane Library, EMBASE, and the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), VIP database, Wanfang database until September 2018. The methodological quality of the included studies was evaluated by using the method of Cochrane system.

Thirteen RCTs with 1045 participants were identified. The studies investigated the lung cancer (n = 5), leukemia (n = 3), liver cancer (n = 3), breast or colon cancer (n = 1), and gastric cancer (n = 1). A total of 83 traditional Chinese medicines were used in all prescriptions and there were three different dosage forms. The meta-analysis suggested that Danshen formulae had a significant effect on RR (response rate) (OR 2.38, 95% CI 1.66-3.42), 1-year survival (OR 1.70 95% CI 1.22-2.36), 3-year survival (OR 2.78, 95% CI 1.62-4.78), and 5-year survival (OR 8.45, 95% CI 2.53-28.27).

The authors concluded that the current research results showed that Danshen formulae combined with chemotherapy for cancer treatment was better than conventional drug treatment plan alone.

I am getting a little tired of discussing systematic reviews of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) that are little more than promotion, free of good science. But, because such articles do seriously endanger the life of many patients, I do nevertheless succumb occasionally. So here are a few points to explain why the conclusions of the Chinese authors are nonsense:

  • Even though the authors claim the trials included in their review were of high quality, most were, in fact, flimsy.
  • The trials used no less than 83 different herbal mixtures of dubious quality containing Danshen. It is therefore not possible to define which mixture worked and which did not.
  • There is no detailed discussion of the adverse effects and no mention of possible herb-drug interactions.
  • There seemed to be a sizable publication bias hidden in the data.
  • All the eligible studies were conducted in China, and we know that such trials are unreliable to say the least.
  • Only four articles were published in English which means those of us who cannot read Chinese are unable to check the correctness of the data extraction of the review authors.

I know it sounds terribly chauvinistic, but I do truly believe that we should simply ignore Chinese articles, if they have defects that set our alarm bells ringing – if not, we are likely to do a significant disservice to healthcare and progress.

One of the most difficult things in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) can be having a productive discussion with patients about the subject, particularly if they are deeply pro-SCAM. The task can get more tricky, if a patient is suffering from a serious, potentially life-threatening condition. Arguably, the discussion would become even more difficult, if the SCAM in question is relatively harmless but supported only by scarce and flimsy evidence.

An example might be the case of a cancer patient who is fond of mindfulness cognitive therapy (MBCT), a class-based program designed to prevent relapse or recurrence of major depression. To contemplate such a situation, let’s consider the following hypothetical exchange between a patient (P) and her oncologist (O).

P: I often feel quite low, do you think I need some treatment for depression?

O: That depends on whether you are truly depressed or just a bit under the weather.

P: No, I am not clinically depressed; it’s just that I am worried and sometimes see everything in black.

O: I understand, that’s not an unusual thing in your situation.

P: Someone told me about MBCT, and I wonder what you think about it.

O: Yes, I happen to know about this approach, but I’m not sure it would help you.

P: Are you sure? A few years ago, I had some MBCT; it seemed to work and, at least, it cannot do any harm.

O: Yes, that’s true; MBCT is quite safe.

P: So, why are you against it?

O: I am not against it; I just doubt that it is the best treatment for you.

P: Why?

O: Because there is little evidence for it and even less for someone like you.

P: But I have seen some studies that seem to show it works.

O: I know, there have been trials but they are not very reliable.

P: But the therapy has not been shown to be ineffective, has it?

O: No, but the treatment is not really for your condition.

P: So, you admit that there is some positive evidence but you are still against it because of some technicalities with the science?

O: No, I am telling you that this treatment is not supported by good evidence.

P: And therefore you want me to continue to suffer from low mood? I don’t call that very compassionate!

O: I fully understand your situation, but we ought to find the best treatment for you, not just one that you happen to be fond of.

P: I don’t understand why you are against giving MBCT a try; it’s safe, as you say, and there is some evidence for it. And I have already had a good experience with it. Is that not enough?

O: My role as your doctor is to provide you with advice about which treatments are best in your particular situation. There are options that are much better than MBCT.

P: But if I want to try it?

O: If you want to try MBCT, I cannot prevent you from doing so. I am only trying to tell you about the evidence.

P: Fine, in this case, I will give it a go.

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Clearly this discussion did not go all that well. It was meant to highlight the tension between the aspirations of a patient and the hope of a responsible clinician to inform his patient about the best available evidence. Often the evidence is not in favour of SCAM. Thus there is a gap that can be difficult to breach. (Instead of using MBCT, I could, of course, have used dozens of other SCAMs like homeopathy, chiropractic, Reiki, etc.)

The pro-SCAM patient thinks that, as she previously has had a good experience with SCAM, it must be fine; at the very minimum, it should be tried again, and she wants her doctor to agree. The responsible clinician thinks that he ought to recommend a therapy that is evidence-based. The patient feels that scientific evidence tells her nothing about her experience. The clinician insists that evidence matters. The patient finds the clinician lacks compassion. The clinician feels that the most compassionate and ethical strategy is to recommend the most effective therapy.

As the discussion goes on, the gap is not closing but seems to be widening.

What can be done about it?

I wish I knew the answer!

Do you?

Reiki is a form of energy healing popularised by the Japanese Mikao Usui (1865-1926). ‘Rei’ means universal spirit (sometimes thought of as a supreme being), and ‘ki’ is the assumed universal life energy. Reiki is broadly based on some of the obsolete concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Reiki practitioners believe that they can transfer ‘healing energy’ to a patient which, in turn, stimulates the self-healing properties of the body. They assume that the therapeutic effects of this technique are obtained from a ‘universal life energy’ that provides strength, harmony, and balance to the body and mind.

This study (entitled ‘ The Power of Reiki’) was conducted to pilot testing the feasibility and efficacy of Reiki to provide pain relief among pediatric patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Paediatric patients undergoing HSCT during the inpatient phase in the Stem Cell Transplantation Unit were eligible to participate. Short and medium effects were assessed investigating the increase or decrease of patient’s pain during three specific time periods (“delta”) of the day: morning of the Reiki session versus assessment before Reiki session (within subjects control period), assessment before Reiki session versus assessment after Reiki session (within subjects experimental period) and assessment after Reiki session versus morning the day after Reiki session (within subject follow-up period). The effect of 88 Reiki therapy sessions in nine patients was analysed following a short, medium, and long-term perspective. Repeated-measures analysis of variance revealed a significant difference among the three periods: a decrease of the pain occurred in the experimental period in short and medium term, while in the follow-up period, the pain level remained stable.

The authors concluded that this study demonstrates the feasibility of using Reiki therapy in pediatric cancer patients undergoing HSCT. Furthermore, these findings evidence that trained pediatric oncology nurses can insert Reiki into their clinical practice as a valid instrument for diminishing suffering from cancer in childhood.

This is an unusual conclusion in that it is strictly speaking correct. What is wrong, however, that the abstract reports findings related to the alleged effectiveness of Reiki. A feasibility study is not designed for that purpose. I therefore suggest to ignore all allusions to therapeutic effects.

This, I think, begs the question as to why it is necessary or productive to study Reiki in clinical trials.

  • The treatment is not plausible.
  • There have been many trials already.
  • The ones that are sufficiently rigorous fail to show that it has any effects beyond placebo.
  • The medical literature is already highly polluted with Reiki studies reporting false-positive results.
  • This can only confuse researchers who attempt to conduct reviews on the subject.
  • Reiki studies discredit clinical research.
  • They are a waste of valuable resources.
  • Arguably, they are even unethical.

If you ask me, it is high time to stop researching such implausible nonsense.

 

The three-year old Noah was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a blood cancer with a very good prognosis when treated (~85% of all children affected can be completely cured and expect to live a normal life). The child was admitted to hospital and, initially, chemotherapy was started. But the treatment was not finished, because the parents took their child home prematurely. The mother, a 22-year-old ‘holistic birth attendant’, had been against conventional treatments from the start. She nevertheless agreed to the first two rounds of chemotherapy — “because they can get a medical court order to force you to do it anyways for a child with his diagnosis”.

Noah’s parent treated their sons with a number of home remedies:

  • Rosemary,
  • colloidal silver,
  • Reishi mushroom tea,
  • Apricot seeds,
  • and other forms of SCAM.

After the child had gone missing, the police issued an alert:

“On April 22, 2019 the parents failed to bring in the child to a medically necessary hospital procedure. The parents have further refused to follow up with the life saving medical care the child needs.”

In a matter of hours, the parents and their child were found. Noah was then taken from his parents and was “now being medically treated,” the sheriff’s office stated. The parents, meanwhile, were being investigated on suspicion of child neglect.

They insist that they were merely trying to give their son alternative medical care, accusing the police and medical officials of stripping them of the right to choose their own treatment plan for their son. Their supporters call the state’s decision to take custody of Noah a “medical kidnapping”. Medical kidnapping is defined as the State taking away children from their parents so that the children can receive medical or surgical care which the parents would otherwise not allow to be administered.

“We’re not trying to refuse any kind of treatment,” the parents told reporters. “They think we’re refusing treatment all around, putting him in danger, trying to kill him. But not at all. We’re trying to save him.” An organization fighting on behalf of the parents, the Florida Freedom Alliance, which also supports “vaccine freedom,” argues that the couple should be entitled to “medical freedom” and freedom from “medical kidnappings.”

Who is right and who is wrong?

Are medical kidnappings legal?

I am, of course, not sure about the legalities. But I am fairly certain about the evidence in the above case:

  1. Noah’s condition is treatable, and in all likelihood he would be cured, if treated according to current oncological standards. This view was also confirmed by the oncologist who is in charge of treating him in hospital.
  2. None of the treatments mentioned by the parents are effective. In fact, alternative cancer cures are a myth; they do not exist and they will never exist. Once a treatment shows promise, it would be scientifically investigated. And, if the results are positive, it would become mainstream quicker than I can climb a tree.

Ethically Noah’s case could not be clearer: the child’s life must be saved, whether with the support of his parents or not. However strongly parents might feel about their under-age kids’ care, they do not own their children and must not be allowed to cause them significant harm.

We have discussed various forms of healing before – see, for instance, here, here and here. Of all the implausible SCAMs, healing takes the biscuit. Here is a healing-paper that fascinated me.

The aim of the study was to report epidemiologic data on ‘biofield healers’ (all types of energy healers) in radiation therapy patients, and to assess the possible objective and subjective benefits.

A retrospective study was conducted in a French cancer institute. All consecutive breast or prostate cancer patients undergoing a curative radiotherapy during 2015 were screened (n = 806). Healer consultation procedure, frequency, and remuneration were collected. Patient’s self-evaluation of healer’s impact on treatment tolerance was reported. Tolerance (fatigue, pain) was assessed through visual analogic scale (0 to 10). Analgesic consumption was evaluated.

A total of 500 patients were included (350 women and 150 men), and 256 patients (51.2%) consulted a healer during their radiation treatment, with a majority of women (58%, p < 0.01). Most patients had weekly (n = 209, 41.8%) or daily (n = 84, 16.8%) appointments with their healer. Regarding the self-reported tolerance, > 80% of the patients described a “good” or “very good” impact of the healer on their treatment. Healers were mainly voluntary (75.8%). Regarding the clinical efficacy, no difference was observed in prostate and in breast cancer patients (toxicity, antalgic consumption, pain).

The authors concluded that this study reveals that the majority of patients treated by radiotherapy consults a healer and reports a benefit on subjective tolerance, without objective tolerance amelioration.

The authors admit that their investigation has several limitations:

  1. Among the 806 screened patients, only 500 were finally included. These patients more likely report their subjective benefit on biofield healing, and could overestimate benefits in the healer group.
  2. Practices were highly variable from a healer to another.
  3. Toxicities evaluation might have been biased due to retrospective analysis based on medical patient record.

But what does this study really show?

I think, it demonstrates that:

  1. Healing is frightfully popular in France. I use the term deliberately, because this level of irrationality does, in fact, frighten me.
  2. Healing does not seem to alter the natural history of cancer.

And what about the fact that 84% of the patients reported a good or very good impact of the biofield healer on their tolerance to radiotherapy? Does this prove or even suggest that healing has positive effects? I think not! This result is to be expected. Imagine a retrospective study of patients who chose to eat a hamburger. Would we not expext that a similar percentage might claim that eating it did them good?

I rest my case.

 

 

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