Friday, September 26, 2003

Quack cures: radium

The idea that drinking water that has been irradiated would cure ailments seems laughable, if not downright dangerous, today. However, is it any more weird than the idea that drinking huge quantities of carrot juice or meditating can help? And, of course, there is always homeopathy...

Radium Ore Revigator

MMR uptake falls... but has it bottomed out?

MMR vaccination rates have dropped to 82 percent overall, with as few as 60 percent of children being immunised in some areas. It does suggest that substantial outbreaks of measles may occur soon. While measles is not normally a particularly dangerous disease, chances are that a few children will become seriously ill or even die as a result of not being immunised.

What does seem to be at stake is the degree to which parents are prepared to believe standard medical advice which could store up much bigger problems in the future.

BBC NEWS | Health | MMR uptake falls to record low

Thursday, September 25, 2003

The tragedy of Paul Merton's wife

Sarah Parkinson, wife of comedian Paul Merton, has died aged 41. She was diagnosed as having breast cancer in February 2002. However, she refused chemotherapy and radiotherapy, relying on tamoxifen, yoga and healthy eating to try to overcome the disease.

While the newspapers obviously don't cover every detail of her medical history or the background to her decision, it is hard not to conclude that she would have had a better chance of survival if she had had conventional treatment. How utterly sad that an obsession with new-age fads may have cost someone her life.

TV's Paul mourns his courageous wife, Mirror, 25 September 2003

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

King's Fund report article

I've written this article for spiked, pointing out how the King's Fund report, which accuses the media of promoting panics and scares, is utterly one-sided. For one thing, those media scares tend to arise from reports in academic journals, press releases by pressure groups and from government pronouncements. Moreover, the 'right messages' that the King's Fund would like to see reported more are just as dubious as the panics they reject.

spiked-health | Article | Shooting the messenger

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Government starts to get heavy on diet

'Official: Atkins diet can be deadly.' So said a headline in Sunday's Observer, as the Food Standards Agency (FSA) published advice on its website suggesting that low-carbohydrate diets may be missing important nutrients. The FSA also suggests that high-fat diets tend to lead to obesity, which in turn increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Moreover, they say, fruit and vegetables may have a protective effect against heart disease and cancer.

It is striking that such a statement, buried on the FSA's 'Ask the expert' page, should provoke such a high level of comment. Standard government advice on diet has been the same for years: meals should be based on starchy foods with plenty of fruit and veg, and high-fat foods should be avoided.

Clearly, the popularity of the Atkins diet, which seems to contradict this long-standing advice, has caused consternation. But many of the criticisms levelled at low-carbohydrate diets in this particular piece of advice do not apply to Atkins. Atkins encourages the eating of green vegetables after an initial two-week period almost devoid of carbohydrates. As for obesity, surely the point of the Atkins diet is that people lose weight, thus avoiding such potential risks?

As it happens, you need to be very overweight in order to significantly increase your risk of ill-health, and our understanding of the links between the kinds of food we eat and health are still tenuous. For example, a recent study suggests that the government's advice to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day may be over-the-top. One thing we can be sure of is that we seem to be living longer, with a greater variety of food readily available, than ever before.

Ironically, the government's lecturing about how we are all too fat is one of the main reasons why people have turned to Atkins - in a desperate attempt to fit into the official notion of acceptable weight. The government wants to eat its cake, and have it - one thing that is definitely not possible on the Atkins diet.

Official: Atkins diet can be deadly, Observer, 22 September 2003

Cervical cancer caused by viruses

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) according to Spanish researchers speaking at the European Cancer Conference. About two-thirds of cases are caused by just one form of HPV. This opens the way for a vaccine to prevent many of the 21,000 cervical cancer deaths in Europe each year.

BBC NEWS | Health | Virus causes most cervical cancer

Prostate cancer deaths fall

The most common form of cancer among men is becoming more treatable, it would seem. Deaths in Europe have fallen by 20 percent, according to the latest figures. Hormonal treatments have replaced castration in all but the most extreme cases and work is continuing on producing drugs with fewer side-effects.

BBC NEWS | Health | Prostate deaths fall by 20%

Monday, September 22, 2003

Age and cancer...again

'A National Cancer Institute (NCI) report estimates that about 1 in 8 women in the United States (approximately 13.3 percent) will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. This estimate is based on cancer rates from 1997 through 1999, as reported in NCIís Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program publication SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1973Ė1999. This publication presents estimates of the risk of developing breast cancer in 10-, 20-, and 30-year intervals. Each age interval is assigned a weight in the calculations based on the proportion of the population living to that age.

The 1 in 8 figure means that, if current rates stay constant, a female born today has a 1 in 8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer sometime during her life. On the other hand, she has a 7 in 8 chance of never developing breast cancer. Because the SEER calculations are weighted, they take into account that not all women live to older ages, when breast cancer risk becomes the greatest. A womanís chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer is:*

from age 30 to age 40 . . . . . .1 out of 252
from age 40 to age 50 . . . . . . 1 out of 68
from age 50 to age 60 . . . . . .1 out of 35
from age 60 to age 70 . . . . . .1 out of 27
Ever . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 out of 8

In evaluating cancer risk for a cancer-free individual at a specific point in time, age-specific (conditional) probabilities are more appropriate than lifetime probabilities. For example, at age 50, a cancer-free black woman has about a 2.5-percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 60, and a cancer-free white woman has about a 2.9-percent chance. '

Lifetime Probability of Breast Cancer in American Women, Cancer Facts 5.6, 13 September 2002