Hot drinks and cancer

You may have seen a frankly terrifying headline this week:

“Hot drinks probably cause cancer, warns World Health Organisation”

Telegraph, 15th June 2016

Almost every news source carried this story, and the headlines were universally similar to the one above. This story comes from a report by the WHO, which looked at the association between coffee and mate (a South American herbal tea) and various forms of cancer. In short, they found that there was no association between coffee or mate and cancer, but that the temperature of the beverage may be linked to oesophageal cancer. Continue reading

Alternative medicine as a placebo

I recently wrote a post about the decision by NICE to no longer recommend acupuncture for lower back pain. This decision was made because, like most alternative medicine, acupuncture hasn’t been shown to work any better than a placebo. However, plenty of people use and get benefit from such treatments. This raises an interesting question: is there a place for complementary and alternative medicine (as a placebo) in the clinic? Continue reading

Royal College of Physicians recommends e-cigarettes for smokers

A few months ago I wrote here about the rise of e-cigarettes. In that post I pointed out that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than tobacco, and should be marketed as a safer alternative to smoking. There has been an interesting update on this topic today, with the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) recommending that all smokers be offered and encouraged to use e-cigarettes. Continue reading

The placebo effect

The recent decision by NICE to no longer recommend acupuncture for lower back pain got me thinking about the placebo effect. It is a bizarre phenomenon: any treatment (regardless of whether it is a real treatment or not) will improve symptoms in some people simply because the recipient believes that it will work. So if we give someone a placebo (a sugar pill for example) and tell them that it can work for their illness, a proportion of patients will feel better. There are so many interesting things about the placebo effect it’s difficult to know where to start.
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Why screening is hard

It’s a simple fact that the most effective thing we can do to cure more cancers is to catch them earlier. If we find bladder cancer at an early stage, the five year survival is 88%; if we catch it at a late stage, when it has started spreading around the body, it drops below 15%. This is why we screen for certain diseases, including breast, bowel and cervical cancer. These large-scale screening programs are the best hope we have for majorly reducing the toll cancer takes on our lives. Continue reading

Acupuncture no longer recommended for back pain

NICE (the organisation that provides guidance to doctors in the UK) recently updated their recommendations regarding lower back pain. In the updated guidance, they say that exercise, in all its forms (for example, stretching, strengthening, aerobic or yoga), is the most important step in managing back pain.

Previously, NICE also recommended acupuncture or massage, but this has now been altered. Massage can still be used alongside exercise, but the guidelines no longer recommend acupuncture, as “evidence shows it is not better than sham treatment”. Continue reading