The latest scummy tactic of altie med – blaming medicine for celebrity deaths.

A fellow medical student once asked me why I thought people become hostile to science-based medicine. Certainly our own failures contribute. When we have no treatments for a disease, or if the treatments themselves may also incur significant morbidity, it is understandable that patients will become disillusioned with what doctors have to offer.

However there is another cause for this hostility towards medicine, and it isn’t the occasional crank scibling with an axe to grind against MDs. It’s the constant anti-science propaganda being spouted out by the hawkers of alternative medicine.

Orac and others have despaired over the infiltration of woo into mainstream medicine under a banner of tolerance and the noble goal of avoiding confrontation with patients over deeply-held beliefs. However this has proved more and more a tactical error as we’ve seen that CAM and altie medicine do not seek detente but is at war with legitimate medicine and science itself. Besides the fact that there is no good reason to water down medical school with unproven nonsense and the latest placebo fad being sold by crooks, alternative medicine should not be taught because doing so is not just a failing to meet the barbarians at the gate, but is actively inviting them in to destroy everything we’ve worked for.

As examples of the despicable attacks on medicine from altie-med practitioners, I say we start with that aggregator of woo-practitioners Natural News. A site started by HIV/AIDS denialist Mike Adams, he features writing from various alties ranging from reiki therapists to naturopaths to chiropractors. What unifies them is their contempt for science-based medicine. Take for instance their attack on science based medicine for the death of former White House Spokesperson Tony Snow and more recently Bernie Mac .

Former White House press secretary Tony Snow died in July 2008 at the age of 53, following a series of chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer. In 2005, Snow had his colon removed and underwent six months of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Two years later (2007), Snow underwent surgery to remove a growth in his abdominal area, near the site of the original cancer. “This is a very treatable condition,” said Dr. Allyson Ocean, a gastrointestinal oncologist at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Many patients, because of the therapies we have, are able to work and live full lives with quality while they’re being treated. Anyone who looks at this as a death sentence is wrong.” But of course we now know, Dr. Ocean was dead wrong.

The media headlines proclaimed Snow died from colon cancer, although they knew he didn’t have a colon anymore. Apparently, the malignant cancer had “returned” (from where?) and “spread” to the liver and elsewhere in his body. In actual fact, the colon surgery severely restricted his normal eliminative functions, thereby overburdening the liver and tissue fluids with toxic waste. The previous series of chemo-treatments inflamed and irreversibly damaged a large number of cells in his body, and also impaired his immune system — a perfect recipe for growing new cancers. Now unable to heal the causes of the original cancer (in addition to the newly created ones), Snow’s body developed new cancers in the liver and other parts of the body.

This is a rather stunning piece of scientific illiteracy in it’s own right, without being disgusting for the ghoulish use of this man’s death to attack those who were doing the best to keep him alive. We see of course toxin-woo (if anything there are fewer toxins in your body without your colon because the chyme is diverted earlier out into a colostomy), and a complete inability to understand the process of metastasis. The author makes the stunningly ignorant assertion that all the cancers that spread throughout his body were somehow unique and caused by the chemo, when we can use simple histopathology to determine the source of such cancers and we know that such a spread represents metastatic spread from a single source – the colon. Further we know that if cancer has already spread before surgical resection it may not be detectable and appear even after removal of the diseased organ, even if they did indeed resect Snow’s entire colon as opposed to performing a hemicolectomy. All this passage does is expose the promoters of this anti-doctor spite for their complete ignorance of even basic biology.

The author goes on to accuse doctors using chemo of committing a criminal offense:

Before committing themselves to being poisoned, cancer patients need to question their doctors and ask them to produce the research or evidence that shrinking a tumor actually translates to any increase in survival. If they tell you that chemotherapy is your best chance of surviving, you will know they are lying or are simply misinformed. As Abel’s research clearly demonstrated, there is no such evidence anywhere to be found in the medical literature. Subjecting patients to chemotherapy robs them of a fair chance of finding or responding to a real cure and deserves criminal prosecution.

A pretty stunning statement no? Does anyone want to see some real data on what chemotherapy can do?

The efficacy of cancer treatments has been tracked for decades by the National Cancer institute, and one can see that medical treatments for cancer over the decades have increased the survival rates from cancer, though more modestly than we would like.

Even from this figure though, we see the lie of the writer of this article. Certainly there are cancers we are still incredibly poor at treating. Pancreatic, certain brain cancers, and lung cancer come to mind. But what these cranks represent as our success rate is absurdly low. Further, their general disparaging of chemotherapy as a potentially curative treatment is belied by one of it’s greatest successes – that is the incredible cure rates of the so-called liquid tumors, like leukemia and lymphoma. One of my favorite figures is this one from St. Judes showing the success rate of chemotherapy regimens for a childhood leukemia called AML over time:


This chart of 5 year survivals of patients since the 1960s is from this paper from 1993, and I’ve seen the updated data from St. Jude’s researchers showing the most recent 5 year survival rates as high as 95%. To see our therapies which unquestionably are effective in the treatment of deadly diseases be disparaged so dishonestly is understandably upsetting.

It’s not just chemotherapy being disparaged though, recently they’ve chosen to blame us for the death of Bernie Mac as well. Check out this nonsense by Adams himself:

The number of famous people dying at the hands of conventional medical doctors is increasing at an alarming rate. Today comedian Bernie Mac (best known for appearing in Oceans Eleven and The Bernie Mac Show) died following hospitalization and treatment for pneumonia. At the young age of 50, Bernie Mac joins an increasing roster of other notable celebrities who have died while being treated with conventional pharmaceuticals or chemotherapy: Heath Ledger, Peter Jennings, Tim Russert and many more.

The most common treatments for sarcoidosis are dangerous steroids (like Prednisone) or immune system suppressing drugs like Methotrexate. Following his treatment with one or both of these pharmaceuticals, Bernie Mac was described as having his sarcoidosis go into “remission.” That’s conventional medicine’s code word for masking symptoms with dangerous chemicals while ignoring the underlying cause of the disease.

“Sarcoidosis,” meanwhile, is just a fancy-sounding name for an out-of-control autoimmune response caused by an imbalanced immune system which is disrupted by dietary imbalances and exposure to toxic chemicals through processed foods, pharmaceuticals, personal care products and other environmental sources (like pesticides or cleaning solvents). Bernie Mac didn’t really have sarcoidosis; he was merely given that label by doctors who attached a fancy name to a pattern of symptoms that Bernie Mac expressed.

But doctors never told Bernie Mac this information. They never even gave him the option to be healthy. Doctors are predominantly in the business of causing the deaths of patients through a process of authoritative ignorance — keeping patients unaware of natural alternatives, and thereby forcing them to rely on toxic treatments that unfortunately harm more people than they help.

Wow. Not only do we get Bernie Mac, we get a whole host of other celebrities who died as well, not from the underlying diseases or cancers, but from medicine itself. But these accusations, besides being absolutely ghoulish are beyond the pale. Not only do we see the denial of legitimate medicine, we see an attack on the science of medicine itself. After all, we are the only ones involved in this fight that consistently document the efficacy of our treatments. As always, if a better treatment exists, we would love for someone to prove it, at which point we’ll accept it happily. However, with this vague allusion to “natural” treatments and “nutrition” we see the typical vague refrain of the altie-med crank. No evidence, no proof of anything, just bile being spouted at those who spend their lives trying to use human knowledge for human benefit.

Sarcoidosis is a terrible disease for some folks and I wish modern medicine had better treatments that could cause more than temporary remissions. But one thing is certain, magic diets are not going to cure it. If anything, Adams and his constant harping on vitamin D would kill a sarcoid patient if they ever got their hands on one because if anything such a vitamin excess would cause them a great deal of harm. If they have some knowledge of a sarcoid cure, we’d be thrilled to know about it, and use it, but the fact is, they’re spouting their usual arrogant omniscience about some concept of dietary perfection that does not exist.

But to get back to the original point of this post, how can it be that medical schools are increasingly willing to integrate CAM into their curriculum, and medical centers are creating centers for this nonsense when the practitioners of CAM are so hostile to legitimate medicine?

The fact is they are undermining medicine at the same time they seek to be legitimized by it. The prospect of being able to attract more patients and more money by offering access to woo stands at odds with the historical practice of medical professionals of rightly attacking and exposing the snake oil salesmen for what they are – fraudsters. Those that propose cooperating with the enemies of science have lost their way and instead of keeping the barbarians out, and maintaining our grip on reality they have begun to sacrifice their scientific legitimacy and their morals by adopting the religion of these cranks.

1. Rivera, Gaston K., Pinkel, Donald, Simone, Joseph V., Hancock, Michael L., Crist, William M. Treatment of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia — 30 Years’ Experience at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital N Engl J Med 1993 329: 1289-1295