Disparities in cancer survival

In my last post I published some good news about cancer survival rates, so I thought it was important to highlight a big problem with our recent success against this disease. This issue is flagged up in a study published at the end of January.

It addresses the fact that the gains we have made in cancer diagnosis and treatment are very unevenly spread around the world. To analyze this is greater detail, the scientists studied the differences in survival in different countries, and the results are somewhat predictable.

If, for example, you are an Australian or American with breast cancer, you have a 90% chance of surviving. If you are Indian however, you only have a 66% chance.

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Vitamin supplements: unexpected consequences

Over the last number of years, the vitamin and nutritional supplement market has grown phenomenally. It is estimated to be worth over $36 billion in the US, up from $17 billion in 2000. It is thought that nearly 70% of the US population take some kind of dietary supplement, and there is much said and written about their use. One thing that cannot be debated however, is the lack of evidence that they do any good. A prime example of this comes from a study published recently about vitamin B supplements. 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

Can Wi-Fi make you sick?

A French court recently awarded a disability grant to a woman claiming to suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Sufferers define this as an illness caused by the radiation given out by everyday objects (Wi-Fi routers, mobile phones and power lines, for example), resulting in a wide range of non-specific symptoms, including headaches, fatigue and irregular heartbeats. There have been several lawsuits in the US from people claiming that their health has been affected by Wi-Fi (unsuccessful so far), and just this week in Massachusetts parents have sued a school, claiming that the Wi-Fi there made their son ill. Continue reading