The Burnley Express reported yesterday that a local woman with terminal cancer
is fighting the disease with a revolutionary raw food and juice diet
The treatment is unfortunately far from revolutionary. There is also a distinct lack of evidence that it can fight cancer.
According to the article, Kathy Morris has been undergoing Gerson Therapy for the last few months and her friends say that this has prevented the cancer spreading further.
I don’t dispute that the cancer has not spread. That is great news for Kathy. Unfortunately however, no amount of wishful thinking could convince me that Gerson Therapy was responsible for this.
Gerson Therapy, far from being ‘revolutionary’, was originally developed in the 1920s as a cure for migraines and tuberculosis. By 1958, Max Gerson believed that his treatment was an ‘effective treatment for cancer, even in advanced cases’, publishing a book detailing fifty case histories of cancer patients who had apparently been successfully treated using his method.
A closer look at these fifty cases failed to demonstrate any benefit whatsoever.
To this day, any evidence to support Gerson Therapy as an effective cancer treatment has been anecdotal and unreliable. Those promoting the therapy typically have little knowledge not just of cancer, but even of basic human biology. They talk of ‘boosting the immune system’ and believe in woolly, pseudoscientific concepts such as ‘detoxification’.
The therapy itself consists of a strict organic, vegetarian diet with a heavy emphasis on juicing, a selection of mineral supplements and three or four daily coffee enemas. Although there is no supporting evidence and no plausible mechanism for action, the Gerson Institute still boast that substances in this diet break down diseased tissue in the body, while coffee enemas aid in eliminating toxins from the liver. Of course, it is a well known fact that a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables can play a role in preventing cancer. This does not mean that a drastic approach like Gerson Therapy will either cure it or slow it down.
In fact, such a regime could do considerable harm, especially to someone who is already ill. Side effects associated with regular coffee enemas include fits, salt and mineral imbalances, heart and lung problems, even death. No reputable doctor would recommend Gerson Therapy. Indeed, the Burnley Express reported that Kathy Morris will be unable to continue the regime while in hospital. At the very least, this suggests that Kathy’s doctors don’t share her friends’ view that Gerson Therapy is preventing the cancer from spreading.
As Cancer Research UK point out here,
There are many sites on the internet advertising or promoting Gerson therapy, but none of them are supported by any reputable scientific cancer organisations. Our advice is to be very cautious about believing information or paying to take part in any type of alternative cancer therapy over the internet.
Supporters of such alternative treatments typically argue that conventional cancer treatments are making millions for the pharmaceutical industry, then often go on to imply that a real cure for cancer is being actively suppressed. If this were true, such cures are being suppressed not just by the likes of me, but by medics and cancer experts everywhere, including Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute. This improbable conspiracy theory is misguided, offensive, and just plain wrong. It can also do real damage. In some cases, it can lead people to deny themselves effective treatment that could control or cure their cancer. It can lead patients to lose faith in doctors who genuinely do have their best interests at heart. It can drive a wedge between patients and their families, just when they are in most need of love and support. It can also, of course, drain families of their life savings.
In publicising such quackery (there is no better word for it), badly researched journalism can contribute to this very real damage. As I wrote here with respect to similar articles regarding the Burzynski Clinic, I believe such an approach is irresponsible, biased and misleads readers. Such articles may be written charitably, with a view to getting behind a good cause, but it just isn’t that simple. If newspapers are to cover stories about terminal cancer and alternative treatments, they have a duty to research them properly – not just to their general readership, but also to the patients themselves.
Kathy Morris and her friends and family have my full sympathy and I wish them well. It is perfectly understandable that faced with such a bleak diagnosis, they may wish to look into alternatives. It is crucial, however, that people like Kathy are fully informed about their treatment, even if this news is unwelcome. In the words of Cancer Research UK,
some alternative ‘therapies’ are just money making businesses targeting people who are ill and very vulnerable. Our message is
- Be careful
- Make sure you look into the information that is available
- Talk to your cancer doctor before you give money for any therapy, whether it’s conventional, complementary or alternative
I would hope that the Burnley Express consider these points if they ever consider running such an article in future.
Gerson Therapy Cancer Research UK
Gerson Therapy (PDQ®) National Cancer Institute
Is it illegal to promote Gerson Therapy at the World Snooker Championship? Josephine Jones, 24/04/12
Hapton rock climber to raise £10K for cancer-battling friend Jonathon Dillon, Lancashire Telegraph, 18/04/12
If the media care about Burzynski’s patients they must pull their heads out of the sand Josephine Jones, 29/04/12
Hapton woman’s revolutionary cancer fight Burnley Express, 23/05/12