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Glass Houses

GLASS HOUSES: Cancer specialist attacks alternative

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

"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

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

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

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