Cancer Returns – Again

February 14, 2006

I’ve received a comment about my cancer posting by someone working in conventional cancer treatment, she is an oncology nurse and although the comment is very polite it still consists of the usual response that mainstream medicine gives to critics. Naturally I feel the need to rebut her comments, but dismantling the propaganda will also be a useful exercise. First up is her comment:

Your entry leaves out an entire class of medications for cancer (biotherapies) that has proved to be very effective for people being treated, especially in conjunction with traditional chemotherapies and radiation. I have seen breast cancer patients get 14 more years or more with a combination of surgery, radiation and chemo. Also cancer is an umbrella term of a wide variety of diseases, some caused by environment, others genetic, and still others that are viral. Most are custom treated according to their cell type and genetics. Not all cancer treatment has a goal of cure. Many treatments that are given are palliative in nature. Perhaps you would not wish to have radiation to your spine, however, someone else might like to be able to walk –radiation will shrink that tumor and relieve the pressure on the spinal cord. As to releasing people to the same environments…. people choose where they live and a large percentage of lung cancer patients continue to smoke. That some people may refuse treatment for their cancers is a personal decision based on thier particular individual cancer and prognosis. Having knowledge of your disease is the first responsible step, not everybody wants to know. Also take into account age. Cancer at 92 years old is called the end of a lifespan not time to get taxotere. I believe your cause is better served by questioning and exploring what people (the public) want and expect out of modern healthcare, its risk/cost benefits and what that means to healthcare, society and the nation. Blanketing the medical (and cancer subspecialty) community with under-researched criticism is unfair. I think your claims and recommendation of this book is irresponsible.

Disclaimer: I am an oncology nurse with 5 years experience. I would love for someone to put me out of a job because what I really would love to do is to garden, sew and paint. My job is depressing because so many people do die. I understand that we all are certain to die of something and even the most curable cancer patient can drop dead of a heart attack or get hit by a bus. Unfortunately, we don’t find all cancers quickly enough. However, we have enough long-timers (regulars) who come back every week and there are many patients that we have given more time to who come back and visit. Because after all, our business is to give people more time– that is all everyone wants.

Mainstream medicine always, always accuses it’s critics of being ‘irresponsible’ and ‘under-researched’. These is very rarely any evidence given to back this up – as in this case – merely a tone of concerned authority. Usually attacking the person rather than their argument is a good sign that someone doesn’t have the facts on their side. I’ll take the compliment.

I presume that since mainstream medicine holds the establishment position conventional practitioners just assume they must be right by default. The fact that the mainstream position has been determined by the power of drug-pushing, corrupt corporations is never on the table. Mainstream medicine is, in fact, rarely asked to provide evidence to back up it’s assertions. They are the evidence.

This nurse, like all health professionals, is probably not used to having to back up her comments since they would normally be taken as a statement of fact by trusting patients. The idea that she might cite some evidence each time would probably surprise her – and imagine what would happen if you went to a doctor and asked them to cite some research to prove their opinion. If we actually had the cheek to do such a thing to an authority figure like that they would, quite genuinely, feel that you had insulted them.

The irony in all this is that my guest contributor has not presented a single verifiable fact to prove her point (I didn’t exactly do that either but I did at least cite my source) and instead uses anecdotal evidence to back up her argument. Of the two of us so far she appears to have done the least research. A bare minimum for this kind of criticism would have been to read the book before calling me (and it) irresponsible.

Further evidence of the self defining nature of  mainstream medicine comes when she starts to recite some self-defining ‘truths’ of cancer treatment;   “Not all cancer treatment has a goal of cure. Many treatments that are given are palliative in nature”   Clearly she has never thought critically about these ‘facts’ because they actually support what I was trying to say – which is that there is not a lot of hope on offer in conventional therapies. On the other hand there is a whole universe of possibilities outside the approach of ‘attack the symptom’.

Mainstream medicine is also unaware of the concept of prevention “…we don’t find all cancers quickly enough” being the best she can hope to do. Further, my guest contributor responded to my criticism that survivors of conventional cancer therapy are sent back into the same cancer-causing environment that “people choose where they live”. This is particularly callous given that it is near impossible to avoid cancer-causing agents in the western world. Surely a kinder approach might be to educate the person about nutrition and toxins. Clearly is not an option otherwise I wouldn’t have had to go looking in obscure places to find out that prevention is a good option.

According to ‘Cancer Conspiracy’ it is also wrong to attribute cancer to viral and genetic causes. At best it might be the case that a small percentage of animal cancer’s are caused by a virus.

I know this will be construed as an attack on the person who posted the comment but my attack would best be directed at the people who have the power to change the situation. If this person doubted the conventional approach she wouldn’t last long in the field of oncology. I’ve worked in a professional environment myself when I didn’t believe in and it is virtually impossible to keep turning up day after day. You either have to leave or try to change things and as ‘Cancer Conspiracy’ details, heretics don’t last long in medicine.

She ends with; “our business is to give people more time– that is all everyone wants”. This statement contains the implication (born out by the evidence) that mainstream medicine is focused on extending life, not improving it, but it is also wrong. People want a CURE – they want to spend the rest of their life without the spectre of cancer’s inevitable return hanging over their heads. Clearly they are not going to find that through conventional ‘therapies’.


One comment

  1. I think you’re not being very fair here. I often don’t cite my sources, either, because the information has been backed up by so many sources that listing even a small fraction of them would take the rest of the day. In fact, I often look more askance on people citing a single source, than people citing none. My guess would be that as an oncological nurse for five years, she’s probably done more research than you. You’ve cited just one book–and a book that looks pretty shaky to me, I’m afraid. As I pointed out in the comments in the last thread, at least one of its major claims appears to be bunk. I’m betting your guest has read a lot more than just one book, and probably more reliable books, at that.

    G-d knows I’m no apologist for Western medicine; I get a lot of flak for pointing out that it’s just one ethnomedicine among many, no better or worse than any other. They take me to task for claiming it’s no better; now I’m taking you to task for saying it’s worse. :)

    I don’t buy that research is controlled by monied interests. There’s so much more money to be made by shaking things up, and there’s always someone willing to pay you to come up with a study to overturn the opposition. Science isn’t some conspiratorial, monolithic entity. It’s the constant bickering of otherwise adult people looking for any way to cut each other down. It creates a very “Darwinian” ecology of ideas where only the fittest survive–where fitness is defined by the inability of anyone else to poke a hole in it.

    If somebody out there could prove a better cancer therapy, she’d do it in a heartbeat, because that would make more money than anything anybody else could pay them. There’s no room for corruption in science. It’s too much of a liability in a place where the best way for a student to start his career, is by tearing apart the careers of his teachers.

    Posted by: Jason Godesky | 02/15/2006

    Jason I’m quite surpised that you take this position, it’s seem slightly maieve next to the level of sophistication you usually bring to issus of civilsation. I really recommend you read Disciplined Minds by Jeff Schmidt. He is a physicist and uses his intimate knowledge of scientific training to describe just how in boxed-in the scientists are in their thinking. He also describes how the scientists (and all professiolnals) internalise a reflex respectfor hierarachy – they are incapable of doing anything that would upset the people who run their system. And that fact is the people who do the research don’t control the money so even if they want to explore other areas it’s just not possibel for them to do so.

    I must admit that I always had trouble with the idea that scientists could be so boxed-in (despite their observable behaviour) but after reading Disciplined Midns it has all become much clearer .

    It’s probably impossible to find where you are but you should also read Cancer Conspiracy. Significant portions of the book contain quotes from other pieces of research into the issue. I have become well aware of positon taken by other researchers like Samuel Epstein adn ma confident that this book is not out ona limb by itself.

    I also do not think you proved anything with your comments in my last thread. I successfully proved oen fo your claims wrong and I have so little faith in anythign the FDA says I couldn’t take your other claim seriously (at least not enough to bother doing further research on a very specific issue)

    As for the nurse having done more research than me. Nurses don’t do research – their training consists of ‘accepted texts’ and they are totally subordinate to the doctors in practive anyway. I was using her comment as an example only. The medical profession doesnt’ havet o proveide evidecne for anythign – in our world they ARE the evidence.

    I disagree with the idea that ther is money to be made by shakign things up. Again if you read CC (or other sources) you will learn about how people wiht new ideas in cancer treatment are supressed. But also – a proper cure for cancer would cause the medical indusrty to lose a hell of a lot of money in cancer cures that keep peopel comign back. Like I said in a previous coment – the money is nto on cureing people – the money is keeping people on drugs for the rest fo their lives – which is what happens.

    Lastly I don’t want people to think I hate ALL conventional medicine – if I’m in a car crash I’m going to want the best technology that money can buy, I’m going to want the best most high paid skilled surgeons on the planet and I’m going to want that machine that goes ‘ping’.

    If I have a chronic health problem though I will probably be going somewhere else

    Posted by: Aaron | 02/15/2006

    “…Disciplined Minds by Jeff Schmidt”

    I did read it. Seemed very “conspiratorial” to me. I’ve worked with academics before. If someone could overturn natural selection, they’d do it in a heartbeat, because it would make them the wealthiest, most famous biologist ever–or, until someone overturned him. A lot of conspiracy theories hinge on this idea of a monolithic “science,” but in my experience, that just isn’t so. There are plenty of systemic biases involved from its basic premises, but corruptibility is simply not one of them. It’s a very Darwinian environment where everyone’s as eager as can be to savagely take down anyone and anything they can with ruthless skepticism–which is why people who can’t prove their claims are always so quick to suggest some kind of “conspiracy” behind it. Its ruthless minimalism and rigor is at once one of its strengths, and one of its weaknesses. That’s one of those systemic biases I mentioned before–it doesn’t come from who’s funding this or that study, though, but from the competitive nature of scientific research, funding and study itself.

    “…they are incapable of doing anything that would upset the people who run their system.”

    In my experience, they are eager and gleeful about upsetting the people who run their system–they have dreams about it. It’s what gets them out of bed in the morning. The possibility of making all your teachers look like fools, and thus in turn become the teacher yourself–that’s every young scientist’s dream.

    “Cancer Conspiracy. Significant portions of the book contain quotes from other pieces of research into the issue.”

    Haven’t managed to find that one, but as we saw in the other thread, some of its main claims are, quite frankly, bunk. Given that this seems like it’d be a hard title to get my hands on, the length of my reading list already, and the fact that it’s already got a major strike against it for credibility, I think I’ll have to pass on this one.

    “I also do not think you proved anything with your comments in my last thread.”

    To reiterate: you cited a claim from Cancer Conspiracy that untreated patients live four times longer than those that recieve treatment. I tracked the source of that claim down to one Hardin Jones, and a speech he made in 1956. At the time, cancer treatments were in their infancy, and Jones’ claim was correct (or at least, more or less correct). That’s something that’s changed quite a bit in the intervening half-century. The full debunking is available at:


    I share your skepticism about the FDA, but I retain a healthy respect for properly applied intellectual rigor and skepticism. Jones’ speech is precisely the kind of statistic that gets picked up into urban legend and, in the end, misleading FUD, and it seems to have done precisely that here. Its use in Cancer Conspiracy suggests to me that the title is most likely in that broad class of books which has just enough research to sound convincing, but not enough research to really know what it’s talking about–“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” right? The sensationalist title suggests the same, but its use of Jones’ statistic pretty much seals the deal as much as can be done without actually devoting the time to hunting it down and reading it myself.

    “Nurses don’t do research – their training consists of ‘accepted texts’ and they are totally subordinate to the doctors in practive anyway.”

    How much experience do you have with nurses or nursing? My guess would be “none,” but I don’t want to presume too much. Perhaps you do have some experience with nurses, but in some bizarre context I know nothing about. In my experience, nurses are often more informed than the doctors they supposedly work for. I’ve known nurses who very effectively “handled” their doctors, and while the relationship between nurses and doctors is by no means one of peers, I don’t think “subordiante” is correct, either.

    On the salient issue here, research, I don’t know about your own experience, but in every nursing program I’ve ever seen, a good deal of study is required on human biology and health, far more than your average person will pick up casually.

    I disagree with the idea that ther is money to be made by shakign things up. Again if you read CC (or other sources) you will learn about how people wiht new ideas in cancer treatment are supressed.

    Charges like that are often made, and just as often fall apart under closer scrutiny. I know of several hundred such cases where such a thing was alleged; upon further inspection, it turned out that the idea just plain didn’t hold up. It didn’t scale, or it wasn’t practical, or the idea itself was flawed. In all those cases, I don’t know of one that actually turned out to be a suppressed idea.

    Take, for example, the famous “Backster effect.” Lots of people have said this was an example of Science (big “S”) silencing a dissenting view. In fact, no one’s been able to reproduce Backster’s results, and there are some HUGE problems with his methodology.


    “Shaking things up” is technically called a “paradigm shift.” Tainter talks about paradigm shifts in Collapse of Complex Societies, and he talks about how they basically reset the marginal return curve for scientific research. It makes science “profitable” again. Everyone would love a paradigm shift. If a company’s financing research that comes up with an honest paradigm shift, they’re sitting on top of a gold mine.

    The problem is rarely that corporations want to maintain the status quo–if they’re the ones making the change, then they get to hit their competitors where it hurts with little risk to themselves. No, the usual reason is that it’s not really a paradigm shift at all. The methodology was sloppy, or worse, faked, or the results can’t be reproduced, or there are problems of scale, or some other such thing that makes it useless for its intended purpose. In that broad class of books I mentioned before, they do enough research to come across these “magic bullets” that turned out to not be so magic, but not enough to find out that there were very good reasons for that. They conclude that the information was “suppressed,” publish their books, and make a lot of money while spreading the perception that greedy scientists are hiding these wondrous things (which could make them rich beyond their wildest dreams if they were to actually reveal them, but never mind that).

    “Like I said in a previous coment – the money is nto on cureing people – the money is keeping people on drugs for the rest fo their lives – which is what happens.”

    That is true, and I think that’s a reason why once we have a drug therapy, the money dries up for further research. So, I can agree with you so far as industries not being interested in funding a lot of research that will put them out of business. But these are two separate phenomena. If funding is approved for some research project, and it winds up coming up with something crazy awesome, they’re going to publish it, regardless of what their sponsors want.

    Then again, businesses are short-sighted. If a company could get an actual cure for cancer, and put all the cocktail-mixers out of business and make a killing for the next quarter, they’d do it … even if it meant eventually not having any more customers. How many times have corporations done that? Even Lenin remarked that a capitalist would sell you the rope for you to hang him with.

    Posted by: Jason Godesky | 02/15/2006

    RE: Disciplined MInds. This book struck me as one of the least conspiratorial books I have read in a long time, It was very thorough and it explained PERFECTLY the expereinces I had in professional training and professional employment. I get very frustrated when the C word is mentioned, it tends to distract people from discussing the actual issue (It drives me nuts that the cancer book has conspiracy in it’s title.

    Basically what I now understand is that in a hierarchy the first duty of members is to defend the hierarchy. We live in a very hierarchical society.

    I think you must have missed my response to your perevious Hardin Jones reference. At least 3 other researchers have confirmed his comments including one who did a 3 decade long study into the issue. I can’t remember the details but it’s in my previous comments.

    How much experience do I haev with nurses. My mother and my sister in law are nurses. I watched my sister in law go through training and I watched her attitudes change through the expereince and change again when she started working in hospitals – it’s one of the many personal experiences I have had that confirms my views.

    I have no doubt that you can find medical cures that sre quackery, it doesn’t mean they all are.

    I think you have too much faith in science. Of course scientists like to prove each other wrong – it doesn’t mean they will do so by going out onto the fringes. In fact their strongly competitive nature that you describe is, according to DM, another indicator of the screwed up nature of what they do. As for dreamign about upsetting the people who run the system – this is no surprise, of course they want to upset the people who control them, it fits the theory perfectly – I bet they don’t actually do it very often though.

    Cancer has a cause. It is well known to be from toxic build up in the body. It is proven that toxins are carcinogenic. The obvious solution is to eliminate them from the body yet your average oncologist does not talk abuot diet and detox. I don’t believe in a conspiracy either – there are very rarely conspiracies – there doesn’t need to be because the hierarchical nature of our society means that the people down the chain inevitably do what those at the top want.

    If you can’t agree with that then you need some other explanation for the fact that maisntream medicine hasn’t yet ‘discovered’ that nutrition is an important aspect with chronic disease.

    Posted by: Aaron | 02/16/2006


    “If somebody out there could prove a better cancer therapy, she’d do it in a heartbeat, because that would make more money than anything anybody else could pay them. There’s no room for corruption in science. It’s too much of a liability in a place where the best way for a student to start his career, is by tearing apart the careers of his teachers.”

    I’ve not read either of the books in question, but I totally disagree with that. For a study to happen it has to have funding. The party funding the study usually does so because they hope to receive some kind of return on the investment.

    Could you explain how someone would go about making huge sums of money from a study that proves that cancer can be effectively treated or prevented by a change in lifestyle and diet? What is there to sell there apart from perhaps instructional books. How could you possibly make as much money as someone who develops a drug? It seems to me that In order to make money (and thus receive funding) your research has to come up with something sellable and preferably patentable – hence drugs. If the best way to treat cancer is not a drug, how will you profit from that? You can’t put a patent on a lifestyle change.

    My favourite place to look for this kind of activity is in the field of food and nutrition:

    Lets say someone discovered a sweetener 300 times the sweetness of sugar, that contributed almost no calories to the diet and didn’t have any of the health concerns of sugar or established artificial sweeteners. You would think they would be in a position to make a lot of money right. Well if you’ve ever heard of Stevia you’d know there was such a thing. You’d also know that it’s illegal to sell as a sweetener in the USA and Europe because it doesn’t have the Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS) status that Aspatame and other sweeteners have, even though it’s been used for 50 years in Japan and far longer in South America.

    Why doesn’t someone do the studies necessary to prove Stevia safe and get FDA approval? Surely they would make a ton of money right? Well, for one thing at the moment you can’t patent a herb or a herb extract. How can you make a load of money from something you can’t patent? Also it was Monsanto (makers of Aspartame) that got Stevia pulled from the market in the first place, even though their own product has been shown to have health risks in numerous studies. For some interesting reading look up the details of the hoops Monsanto jumped through to get Aspartame approved.

    The same thing it seems to me goes on in the medical industry. It is all driven by money. Studies that have the potential of providing financial return get the funding and the publicity. Studies that threaten profits and don’t provide the potential for more profit either don’t happen, or nobody gets to hear about them. I would love for you to explain to me how it can work otherwise.

    Posted by: Tom | 02/16/2006

    Jason, you need to go on a detox regime pronto:)

    Posted by: Avi Solomon | 02/17/2006

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