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Glass Houses: Cancer specialist attacks alternative therapies
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Everyone knows the old saying 'People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones', everyone, that is, except Prof Jonathan Waxman, a cancer specialist at Imperial College in London

Everyone knows the old saying 'People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones', everyone, that is, except Prof Jonathan Waxman, a cancer specialist at Imperial College in London.

He's been throwing stones at the alternative medicine and organic foods markets, which he says do nothing to help cancer patients other than to give them false hope, and generate vast profits for themselves in the meantime.

"It is the hope of clinicians that the snake oil salesmen that peddle cures and exploit the desperate will be tipped in the cobra-filled dustbin of oblivion," he writes in a vitriolic essay in the British Medical Journal.

To that end, all alternative strategies should be reclassified as drugs - as they all claim a cure (although few to our knowledge actually do) - and legislate them out of existence, he says. "Protect our patients from vile and cynical exploitation whose intellectual basis, at best, might be viewed as delusional," upon saying which he went back into his house, made entirely from glass.

First up with his own slingshot was Dr Damien Downing, medical director with the Alliance for Natural Health, a group that is fighting to safeguard alternative medicine against a barrage of EU legislation.

Prof Waxman assumes that, in contrast to alternative and complementary medicine, conventional therapies are tested by sound science. Sadly, that's not the case, says Dr Downing. A quick visit to the BMJ Clinical Evidence website reveals that, of the 2,404 treatments surveyed, just 15 per cent were rated as beneficial, while it's not known if 47 per cent are effective at all.

Turn to Prof Waxman's own specialty of oncology and the picture worsens. A study prepared in 2004 revealed that chemotherapy achieved a five-year survival rate of less than 2.5 per cent. Dietary changes are four times as effective in treating cancer, another study revealed.

Other doctors don't seem to share Prof Waxman's confidence in the scientific basis of medicine. Writing in the same issue, Aubrey Blumsohn, a consultant at the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, says that doctors have allowed the drugs industry to sabotage medicine. "We have allowed (the drugs) industry to subvert the rules of science. We have watched quietly as governments and academics have colluded with industry to hide information critical to our patients. We have remained silent as our medical schools have churned out graduates who have no knowledge of the dilemmas and scandals of medicine. We have allowed many of our medical journals to become corrupted and timid," he writes.

Come to think of it, Prof Waxman's house isn't made of glass at all. It's constructed entirely from straw.

(Sources: British Medical Journal, 2006; 333: 1121 (Blumsohn) and 1129 (Waxman)).


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