Wednesday, September 25, 2013

HCR -- There Is No "Mind Over Cancer" Cure

Jim Coyne is a card-carrying expert on cancer and clinical psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Life has taught me that beliefs trump facts when the two collide, so I don't pay a lot of attention to alternative medicine any more. But some readers may find this to be helpful.  This is not cynicism on my part but as Dr. Cloyne illustrates by many examples, the human capacity for blind hope in the face of impending realities may be good for the spirit but has little or nothing to do with the flesh. Or as the old saying goes, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Here is a key snip from the end of his post.

►If the reader gets nothing more that exposure to the word and concept of churnalism (highlighted in the snip) this post will have served a good purpose.

Protecting consumers from misleading “mind over cancer” info from “peer-reviewed” journals
By James Coyne PhD
September 10, 2013

Cancer patients frequently turn to the Internet for information about the best treatments for their disease. They can readily find false claims that conventional cancer treatments do more harm than good and that they should harness the power of the mind if they want to live longer. There are testimonials about conventional treatments failing were unconventional treatments exceed. There is often the insistence of having the backing of science. That sells. 
Surfing the web, cancer patients may find a review in the open access Journal of Alternative Medicine Research that cites some of the same studies as the British Journal of Health Psychology article. It declares that the ‘creative novation behavior therapy’ of Ronald Grossarth-Maticek is the most effective psychotherapy for extending the lives of cancer patients. 
Never mind that Grossarth-Maticek’s claims were investigated by an international team of experts, including David Spiegel, who dismissed the claims for this therapy as exaggerated, implausible, or outright fraudulent. The claims persist in a seemingly scientific journal citing other studies in scientific journals. We cannot expect that cancer patients will see through this or do a thorough systematic review of the literature before accepting such dazzling claims. 
Other websites offer Laurence LeShan’s mobilization of the immune system with individual marathon therapy, workshops, and retreats with the promise “Our aim goes beyond “support”: it is to enhance and extend life.”
  • Working toward creating a richer, more fulfilling life appears to be far superior in survival time to that of traditional psychotherapies focusing on psychological problems and past causes. For people with cancer, this approach often increases their positive response to medical treatment by (theoretically) stimulating their self-healing abilities. 
Still other sites offers the Simonton Method, which involves patient visualizing their cancer and treatment destroying the cancer through the mobilization of the immune system. Some of the therapeutic exercises involve imagining Pac-Men gobbling up and destroying the cancer cells. Hopefully they have now been updated to contemporary video games.
A couple of years ago, Elizabeth Simonton sent me a series of emails pleading with me to participate in a project that would explore her father’s Simonton Method. She stated that she had
  • interviewed such people as, Barrie Cassileth, David Spiegel, Carl Simonton, Jim Gordon, David Bresler, Bernie Siegel and many more. I am extremely interested in your point of view on the matter, as you have publicly expressed that you are skeptical of these ideas, and I am looking to get opinions such as yours to explore all of the facts behind the work….Please let me know if you would consider doing this interview, without it I feel the film would be lacking any sort of balance. 
I refused to be interviewed. Let there be a lack of balance. Apparently, the film was never completed. But why couldn’t Ms Simonton apparently not identify other professionals to present the side she expected from me? 
I think it is vitally important, that as much as we can influence what appears on the internet or in journals, we stick to evidence-based conclusions that there is NO evidence of mind triumphing over cancer, at least in terms of physical health outcomes. If British Journal of Health Psychology and Psycho-Oncologyare going to create confusion with inadequately reviewed or unreviewed articles, then an authoritative body like the UK National Health Service should investigate the claims and issue a statement, just as the ACS has issued a statement. 
There is certainly a precedent for this. A few months ago, there were exaggerated claims about an inexpensive blood test that would be soon available to determine whether pregnant women were at risk of getting depressed after delivery. The claims arose in a scientific journal but then got churnalled by lazy journalists who accepted what the authors claimed without getting second or third opinions. The NHS issued a statement denying that any blood test was going to be available anytime soon. I think it is incumbent upon the NHS to protect cancer patients and their families from being misled by the failure of peer review. 
So, NHS, please issue a statement to reduce any confusion on the part of cancer patients, their families, and their providers: No evidence that support groups or psychotherapy improve survival. Commission a review of the evidence, if you must. If it is free of the bias shown in the British Journal of Health Psychology and Psycho-Oncology articles, I am sure what the review would conclude.
Churnalism is a form of journalism in which press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles in newspapers and other news media in order to meet increasing pressures of time and cost without undertaking further research or checking. The neologism "churnalism" (churning + journalism) has been credited to BBC journalist Waseem Zakir who coined the term in 2008.

Churnalism has increased to the point that many stories found in the press are not original. The decline of original journalism has been associated with a corresponding rise in public relations.

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